Authenticity shines through with Sweet Alibi

Immensely talented trio makes a City stop on April 20

Fans of old-time, acoustically-rich tunes won’t want to miss Sweet Alibi, a gifted trio making a Red Deer stop next month.

The Winnipeg-based group, which features Jessica Rae Ayre, Amber Neilsen and Michelle Anderson, performs at The Hideout on April 20. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.

Since their debut was released in the spring of 2009, Sweet Alibi has been captivating audiences with their blend of soulful melody and folk/roots traditions. Hints of blues and jazz also spice up the mix.

It was also earlier that year that the three women officially joined forces as Sweet Alibi. Ayre and Anderson had known each other in school, and eventually met up with Neilsen. There was a strong connection amongst the three pretty much right off the bat, recalls Ayre.

Drawing influences from a vast array of musical references, Sweet Alibi apply a quirky pop sensibility to an eclectic set. The three members draw on their differing musical backgrounds for a sound that truly stands apart, and songwriting is a true collaboration. “I would say 80 to 90 per cent of our songs are written together,” said Ayre.

Songs range in mood from hauntingly provocative ballads to left of centre takes on everything from country to old school R&B. Backing their vocals with electric guitars, banjos, hand percussion, ukuleles, upright bass, kazoos and whatever else they can get their hands on, Sweet Alibi compliment a diverse set with an equally eclectic instrumentation.

The band has shared the stage with many of Manitoba’s folk/roots community and have performed everywhere from coffee houses and mainstay clubs to outdoor concert series and festivals (including an appearance at The Winnipeg Folk Festival).

Having finished their debut CD with Juno award winner Mitch Dorge last year, Sweet Alibi are currently touring the project across Canada. Being in the studio marked a wonderfully creative time for the trio, and Ayre added that sometimes it’s tough to let go of a particular song. But the ladies wanted each cut to flow with a rich, natural sound – fully aware that any tendency to over-production can drain the vitality out of a tune.

Being in that kind of environment also lends itself to lots of fresh ideas. “It all definitely came out naturally, and a lot of the parts of the songs we thought up while we were in the studio.”

Meanwhile, it’s been a delight to share their artistic ventures with audiences.

“A lot of it has to do with the interaction, both with each other onstage and with the audience,” said Ayre of the compelling drive to make music. It’s also inspiring to know that their music touches people. Comments from audience members after shows attest to that, and it’s a joy to know that a particular song can help someone through a tough time. Or be associated with a happy circumstance as well.

“You can inspire someone and not even know it.”

Sweet Alibi will be joined by singer/guitarist Braden Gates for their show in Red Deer. Gates, who hails from near Fort Saskatchewan, showed an avid interest in music early on.

At the age of five, he would emulate his father on a one-eighth sized fiddle and before long was playing along side him for dances, jamborees and fiddle contests. At seven, he picked up the guitar and now, at 19, he’s grown into an exceptionally-talented musician with a knack for weaving traditional Canadian fiddle tunes with original melodies on guitar. Not surprisingly, the awards have been plentiful.

In 2008, Gates became the Alberta fiddle champion at just 16 years of age. In 2009 and 2010, he was first runner up and in 2011 he once again claimed Alberta’s top fiddle prize. He has been a representative of Alberta’s fiddle community at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition three times and in 2010 was chosen as one of 11 finalists amidst a field of Canada’s best. 

Braden is also an active mentor, working extensively with Les Bucherons touring in schools across western Canada to promote Canadian history and French Canadian culture and music using songs, stories and dances. He also works as a mentor for young songwriters and musicians throughout the province.