Discovers Beautiful Things
By Kurt Langmann
I first saw Lee Aaron perform in a downtown Vancouver nightclub some 20 years ago when she was billed as Canada's heavy metal queen.
Then about three years ago there she was again, this time performing swing standards with a big band in a Surrey church hall.
These days Aaron is promoting a new CD release called "Beautiful Things" - a collection of new original songs in a jazz-pop vein, five of them written with Joel Kroeker - as well as classic oldies favourites of hers by the likes of Donovan, James Taylor and Nina Simone.
While this may seem a seachange for the woman who was first promoted as some kind of sultry pin-up girl/hard rock diva from Toronto - a marketing move crafted by her first manager - Aaron says she's never considered herself one-dimensional and always took career risks.
"I have to say that true metal makes my skin crawl. Although I had an album called Metal Queen, it was not true metal, I considered it pop/hard rock because everything I've done is strong melodically," said Aaron. "I was never a thrasher, and my strength lies in in being a pop writer."
However, "Over the years you become very pigeon-holed. The record labels want the same record over and over again. But no one expects anyone else to keep the same job all their lives, so I was feeling very boxed in by the '90s and I wanted to evolve.
"So I sold all my stuff in Toronto and moved to the West Coast. I was not as stereotyped here and was able to dabble in a lot of things."
This dabbling included an alternative rock recording with the Sons of Freedom, a role in an award-winning Modern Baroque Opera production, and in 1997 she "segued into more jazz" with both big band dances and the more intimate piano bar shows.
In 2000 she released her Slick Chick CD, a highly-rated collection of cover songs and she thought she was doing a follow-up with her new Beautiful Things CD but "you never know when inspiration strikes," said Aaron. Part of this inspiration was the opportunity to co-write songs with Joel Kroeker and Chris Paul.
"An old friend, Larry Leblanc disovered Joel Kroeker about two years ago, and Larry gave me a ring to say he'd come across this great writer and he lives in my area and he had this feeling it would work. So Joel and I got together and I liked his enthusiasm. I brought ideas and I'd hum them and Joel would just play it on guitar and I went 'Yeah!' He's a very intuitive writer."
This resulted in five Kroeker co-writes on Aaron's CD, and already there are songs charting on radio on the East Coast.
However, "The reality is that a lot of radio stations' formats have gone to 'oldies' - which is great for me getting royalties for my older work but it's hard for the new guys.
"Even someone like Norah Jones is not getting a lot of radio play, and she's the number one downloaded artist in America and still selling more records than anyone - which basically blows the theory that downloading hurts sales," said Aaron.
But as subversive as Jones was, she has proven that the public does recognize quality - given an opportunity to hear her on the Internet, people know that her CD is not just one great song and 11 fluff tracks, so they will buy it.
"That's right," replied Aaron. "People have a desire to have a tangible piece of product in their hands, with the lyrics and artwork. I know I do."
Aaron celebrated the release of Beautiful Things at the Vancouver Media Club April 28 and will be touring theatres across Canada.
Her web site is www.leeaaron.com
© 2004 Aldergrove Star