Not every young Canadian singer-songwriter gets to launch her CD with a live appearance on the US satellite station Sirius XM. The show was hosted by Dave Marsh, author of more than 25 books on rock and roll and known as the “dean of American rock writers” who admits to being her biggest fan.
But that’s how Ariana Gillis , from St. Catharines, Ontario — who turned 21 earlier this month — began to premiere her second album, Forget Me Not. Earlier, Marsh had played a track — “John and the Monster” — from an advance copy of the CD; one response was a phone call from an enthusiastic listener who wanted to know more about the unusual song, and the singer. The mystery caller was Elton John’s lyricist and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.
Later, he wrote to the young singer’s father, musician and producer David Gillis: “I’m staggered by how good she is. There is not much that impresses me these days but after hearing her available tracks I can honestly say she’s the single most exciting thing I’ve heard in a very long time.”
Forget Me Not, like her first CD, To Make It Make Sense, is a collection of Ariana’s original songs. “Original” not only indicates that she wrote or co-wrote all the songs, but that the subjects are unusual. Not many artists (regardless of their age) write songs about creatures in a lake with healing powers, people in adjacent graves chatting with each other, the annual slaughter of dolphins in a cove in Japan, or young sailors forced to walk the plank.
Chosen as Young Performer of the Year at the 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards, she is fulfilling the promise many people have seen since she put out her first EP when she was 17.
Unusually, her chief collaborator is her father, David Gillis, himself an award-winning guitarist with his own solo career. He produced the new CD, co-wrote several of the songs, and plays banjo and/or guitar on every track.