"The easiest person to be is me," said Jully Black. "When people say, 'Oh, she's so cool,' I don't even know how to react - why shouldn't I be?"
The Canadian R&B star and eTalk Daily correspondent branches out in all directions on her second album, Revival, which ranges from pop to rock, old soul and dancefloor electronica, positing Black as our answer to Pink.
"People are so surprised," she said. "Being Canadian, the radio I grew up listening to had everything. Music wasn't as segregated as far as format."
Black cites the Beatles and Stevie Wonder as musical influences on the new album. "Their music appeals to everyone. It was very important to have this record not alienate my old fans, but not scare the new ones. It had to be right down the middle."
She also mentions Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow, who informed her decision to pick up the guitar. "These women come out with pumps and a little skirt, still sexy, with a guitar, singing great songs that have meaning."
Black's personal revival happened in the two years since the release of her 2005 debut, This Is Me. In that time, the native of Toronto's tough Jane and Finch neighbourhood, college grad (she completed a degree in law enforcement at 19, the same year she was offered her first recording contract) and Juno nominee has seen her world open up in amazing ways.
"I travelled a lot over the past two years," said the singer, who turns 30 today. "I went to Africa and Bangladesh, different places where I was able to see other aspects of life and experience a lot of personal growth."
She performed at a free concert in South Africa with her friends the Black Eyed Peas, and did a report on Bangladesh sweatshops for MuchMusic.
"Going to the Soweto Museum, seeing what was happening there - as soon as I got off the plane, I felt like, 'This is my roots,' " she said. "We take a lot for granted (here in Canada) ...
"I would like to go back to Bangladesh and help build homes. I went to shantytowns. A lot of places I went - they had floods there a couple of years ago - those people may not be alive anymore ... I interviewed garment workers who were 12, 13, 14 years old, making $15 a month. And here we're complaining that minimum wage isn't high enough."
Those revelations, along with her expanding career options, sent her straight back to the studio:
"At one point, I said, 'Wow, people are really taking to this TV thing - I gotta do a record."
She and producer Keith Harris (drummer for the Black Eyed Peas) looked to classic soul music in seeking to make an organic album that captured the spirit of Black's live shows, and the off-the- cuff appeal of her TV appearances.
Black's quick wit and infectious laugh make her as comfortable in front of the camera as she is on stage, or working a crowd without music - as she did in Halifax last year, where she kept everyone in stitches as host of the non-televised portion of the Juno Awards.
"I'm the youngest of nine," she said, by way of explanation. "I was constantly looking for attention. My mom had a lot of us to take care of. It's just very easy; it goes back to hip-hop - 'real recognize real'. When people see me on TV just being myself, they feel like they know me."
Black certainly knows and owns herself. The self-styled entrepreneur has released both her solo albums through her label Jully Black Entertainment (distributed by Universal).
And if it seems like she has a lot on the go, she again chalks it up to her upbringing:
"My mom put me in modelling and music classes since I was 12. It wasn't to make me a star, but to not let me have idle time. This is what she created."
Jully Black performs Saturday at the Savoy, inside Metropolis, 59 Ste. Catherine St. E., with Justin Nozuka. Tickets cost $14. Call 514-908-9090. For more info, go to www.jullyblack.com or www.myspace.com/jullyblack
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More Me Mom: It seemed a little ridiculous when Me Mom and Morgentaler first announced they were going to do just two reunion concerts at Club Soda, Nov. 14 and 15. A third, Nov. 17, was added last month, and now comes a fourth. Tickets for the band's Nov. 18 concert, go on sale today at 10 a.m. via Ticketpro. Call 514-908- 9090. For the full story behind the reunion of Montreal's original madcap party collective, see this Saturday's Gazette. For a review of the band's re-released Shiva Space Machine CD, see Page D2.
Colour Photo: JOHN MAHONEY, THE GAZETTE / Jully Black's quick wit and infectious laugh make her as comfortable in front of the camera as she is on stage. ;
Credit: The Gazette
(Copyright Montreal Gazette 2007)