The first time I saw Justine Giles perform was at a block party on Cedar Street in downtown Sudbury a couple of summers ago. It was a promotional thing for an urban clothing store. There were some pretty looking girls modelling the stylish clothing, a free barbecue and live entertainment consisting of a DJ with a turntable and a couple of young cats rapping on the sidewalk in front of the shop. These kids were talented and carried themselves with the brash confidence you'd expect of true hip-hop artists. They were young, but there was nothing amateur about their performance. Their shit was tight.
After they were done a lone young woman took the sidewalk stage (such as it was) armed with only an acoustic guitar and a smile. She sang a couple of original pretty-sounding songs that held everyone's attention, and then a beautiful, stripped-down cover of Rihanna's hit single Stay. The young audience may not have come specifically to see her perform at this event, but they were fans by the time she finished.
That I think, is what is so special about Justine Giles. She's a small, thin and very attractive young lady whose lyrical candor transforms her vulnerability into her greatest artistic strength. You can't help but root for this girl.
After the block party I befriended her on Facebook where she shared her first single called We've Got a Light. It's a song about a couple beginning a relationship after coming off particularly bad ones. In the chorus she sings
And I promise you I'll never scar your face with anything more than a smile.
For me, those lyrics capture the impetuousness of young love and the mistakes that go along with it. When the feelings of longing overwhelm us and lead to jealousy and possessive foolishness. Those relationships do leave scars, sometimes physical as well as emotional. I'm not sure if that's what she had in mind when she wrote those words, but that's the beauty of good music, isn't it? Everyone interprets it differently and makes it their own.
When Justine launched her online crowd-funding campaign for the release of her debut CD I contributed and followed her progress on social media. By then I had caught a couple of her live performances in local clubs so I was familiar with a few of her songs. I watched her indiegogo campaign with excitement and I believe she came very close to her goal.
A few weeks later I had her CD in my hands, delivered by Justine personally. She had come out to watch me read some stuff I wrote at a spoken word event.
It's hard to separate Justine Giles the person from her music and performances because her song lyrics and her personality both online and in the real world gives us a display of an easy, graceful honesty. What you see really is what you get.
On Shine, Giles surrounds herself with skilled musicians that compliment her songs but never distract from her vocals. The production is sparse, giving the recordings a raw sincerity. All the songs are good, but in my mind there are some stand-outs.
In the song Sparks she wonders if she's the victim of unrequited love and sweetly sings please tell me you feel it too. She wants to take it slow with this new guy (but a little bit fast)
Cole's Song is another special one about a friend of hers who passed away far too soon.
Serenades is stunning in it's intimacy. It's like hearing an exquisitely soft confession from an old friend, and perfectly captures the theme of the album for me. We all doubt ourselves. We are all insecure. Sometimes the best relationships turn to shit. We've all pined for people who just didn't feel the same way about us and had our hearts broken. Justine Giles reminds us that no matter how isolated we feel in those moments, we're not alone. Things get better.
We can still shine.