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From the Sun – Ever Rising

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Still on the rise

self released

September 22, 2022

This Marianne van der Zonthe first album of sun is being released is a bit miraculous. As I detailed in my review of his ultra-low-key comeback performance in 2018, the Cedar, BC-based alt. The folk singer-songwriter’s life was turned upside down by a terrible car accident in 2013. Causing traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other serious problems, he ended his career as a university professor, challenging any type of working life at all, requiring spine surgery and years of cognitive therapy. Suffering from debilitating migraines and a permanent state of exhaustion, van der Zon could not even listen to music with a painless rhythm, and she still struggles in this regard.

Due to the severity of her TBI, it was feared that she would never be able to perform as a musician again, let alone function normally. Indeed, touring in the truest sense of the word is an impossibility for van der Zon, since performing a single show is so demanding that it must be followed by rest days. And yet, nine extremely demanding years later, this obviously fiercely determined woman amazed all who knew her by unveiling Still on the rise.

A folk and alt album with poignant lyrics. country with a few forays into Julia Easterlin’s looping vocal material, its title reflects that van der Zon’s stubborn recovery continues to this day. However, the elation she will surely enjoy in finally bringing this touching collection of songs into the public domain will hopefully help her readjust to the lessons. Indeed, van der Zon describes Still on the riseis a quietly memorable outing as “a big outing.”

Although his solo arc, this album follows a decade after square piethe second album (after that of 2009 Farewell to Gerald Fitzella) by Puzzleroot, van der Zon’s idiosyncratic folk number with his former partner, and my introduction to his music. While sonic elements from that era remain, the lyrics are understandably very different, with his recent personal history permeating the songs in one way or another.

Along with the Nature Meditations and Equine Facilitated Wellness programs, composing and recording these songs was an integral part of van der Zon’s gradual healing process. The fact that she expressed her feelings here is both cathartic for the artist and, for the listener, a window into her world and her thoughts since the accident. For example, although presented out of context:

I will crawl to reason (Grace)

Fall in silence, listen to my breath / Let go, let go, ten thousand little dead (Wrong Way – Still on the risefirst single)

Some days I go to sleep, some days I just don’t wanna know / Some days I can cry, some days I stay low, low (Some days)

Yet while these difficult emotions naturally inhabit the material, this musician’s stubborn spirit is such that she refuses to wallow and document the self-pity. Instead, van der Zon now prefers to follow a deeply spiritual and nature-based life path, resolutely pushing forward with a focus on the beauty of his world, especially in terms of love. Whether it is the self-love intrinsic to his recovery, romantic love or universal love, such feelings abound generously in Still on the risepoetic lyrics. (Just note three of the eleven song titles – love storm, Loverand we are love – the latter appearing twice, the second time as a loop acapella to close the album). Additionally and encouragingly, the album is imbued with optimism for van der Zon’s future, evident from the very first line of the sweet opening cut, Grace:

Now I’m better, I’m on the rise / I can fly in the sky

Elsewhere, van der Zon reinforces these feelings of hope by singing such as:

I feel so alive and of intrinsic worth (Wrong Way)

I opened my mouth to sing / Without caring who might hear / I let the notes take to the wind / Feel and let go, of my fear (Shine – Still on the riseis the second single)

After crossing, after crossing / I feel the peaceful me / I am the peaceful me (peaceful me)

The inspirations behind some of the songs are fascinating and undeniably moving. Take Shefor example, a number reminiscent of The Handsome Family, which is about the “huge amount of time meditating with trees… So much so that sometimes I could “feel” what it is like to be a tree… energetically… age, slow cycles and growth, hidden power,” she said. In a bad mood love stormsays the artist, “…we spend far too much time as a species cultivating negative energy and emotions. This was written as an antidote to hate…as a way to fan the flames of love.” Jeez, how we need songs with such a feeling right now. Regarding the country’s magnificent earworm Some daysvan der Zon wisely remarks that “the lyrics remind us that life is all about change and that all emotional states are temporary.”

The most striking track, by far, in stark contrast to the rustic material it’s sandwiched in, is the 7-minute dragon dreams. Built on looping vocals, the epic 21-verse fantasy was inspired by “a lucid dream following a flotation/sensory deprivation session during my recovery process,” as van der Zon explains. “When I awoke from the dream, I felt compelled to start writing, and four pages of (mostly) rhyming verse came out, almost unheard of. The imagery, symbolism and lyrics are about love, hope and compassion for humanity and all living beings. It was like a gift, a story from universal consciousness.”

Most of the recording of Still on the rise took place during the ongoing pandemic, mostly remotely in collaboration with the Canadian roots legend Steve Dawsonit is Chicken Coop Express. Winner of 7 Juno Awards, Nashville’s Dawson (not to be confused with the Chicago frontman of Dolly Varden) started this initiative as, first, a way to keep working during the pandemic and, second, to present a affordable alternative for indie musicians to get their music out there, as it’s expertly mixed and backed by true heavyweights in their fields. With all lead vocals and banjo handled by van der Zon, Dawson brings his silky guitar playing, while drummer Gary Craig provides drums from his home studio in Toronto, and Jeremy Holmes adds bass guitar from his home in Vancouver. Although they are never in the same room, the four musicians form a very effective roots combo that brought van der Zon’s home recordings to life. The increase in core staff is Justin Amaral on percussion and bassist William Mooreboth on three tracks, with van der Zon’s local musician friends Darren McKinnon, tina jones, Shelley Brownand James Scholl provide backing vocals.

The fact that I was able to review this beautiful album is extremely gratifying, not to mention a great relief. When I witnessed van der Zon’s emotional return four years ago, her health was still delicate, her resolute recovery was continuing – as it still is – and her future as a musician in any capacity it is uncertain, but here we have Still on the rise. In the blinding light of day, it is “simply” a collection of highly listenable folk songs created in a rural community on Vancouver Island; in terms of the triumph of the human spirit, this is an extraordinary achievement.

Still on the rise was released digitally on Bandcamp on September 22n/awith a limited edition CD to follow in a few weeks.

WEBSITE: https://www.ofthesun.ca/

BANDCAMP: https://ofthesun2.bandcamp.com/