Celebrating her latest album Business and Pleasure (which comes out this week), here’s a CD-length playlist of some of my favorite songs from Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner. Despite the easy rhyme afforded by her last name, it is very much a primer—proceeding chronologically, it kicks off with two tracks from Public (1998), her third album and major label debut on Mercury Records. Had they appeared two or three years earlier, perhaps “Summerlong” or “Hello Aquarius” might’ve become modern rock radio staples; however, by then, female artists were struggling to get airplay in that format. With that in mind and Universal Music’s acquisition of Mercury, Gryner was dropped from the label shortly after Public came out.
In the 20-odd years since, she has put out 20-odd albums and EPs via her own label, Dead Daisy Records (not to mention a stint in David Bowie’s touring band.) One-third of my selections overlap with her best-of compilation from 2012, including “Summerlong” and the regal, soaring “Almighty Love”, a track a figure no less titanic than Bono cited in a magazine article as a song he wished he had written. I’m surprised there wasn’t more crossover between the two track listings since one of Gryner’s greatest strengths is a knack for glorious, anthemic pop. “Symphonic”, “Young As The Night”, “Black-Eyed Blue Sky”, “Ciao Monday” (the last one’s from 2011’s Northern Gospel)—all of them are alternate world number one singles lifted by ringing guitars, effervescent melodies and Gryner’s endearingly bright and deeply emotive voice.
She’s such a talented, underheard songwriter that I was only going to include her own compositions, but it wouldn’t be fully representative to not highlight her interpretative skills. I first heard of her via Girl Versions (2001) a set of stripped-down covers of songs originally popularized by men including her radical reworking of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (which at the time received ample airplay on WERS, a college radio station in Boston.) Later, she recorded Songs of Love and Death (2005), another covers collection, this time of Irish artists in tribute to her paternal heritage (her mother’s family is Filipino)—likely what tipped Bono off to her. It’s represented here by a gorgeous version of “Forget Georgia” originally by late 80s/early 90s Dublin outfit Something Happens. There’s also She’s Gone, a 2012 EP of Hall and Oates covers, of which the title track (a lovingly chill rendition that gets bonus points for not changing the lyrics to “He’s Gone”) is a highlight.
In recent years, she’s moved from spare balladry (“The Race”) to heavenly psych-pop (“Imagination”) to even fist-pumping EDM (how does “All The Love All The Time” only have 2K streams on Spotify?) Appearing after an extended hiatus, “Valencia”, the lead single from Business and Pleasure makes good on Gryner’s aim to craft a yacht-rock record complete with a Doobie Brothers bounce and horns sympathetic to those on Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues”. Fortunately, it’s not a simulation or a pastiche, just a sincere, finely honed tune brimming with personality and hooks for days like any other track on this playlist.
Haunted Jukebox Mix #3: An Emm Gryner Primer