David Myles is a Halifax-based singer/songwriter with a smooth and tender voice, a vaguely retro look and sound, and an insatiable love of many types of music. At 36 years old, he’s already put out an impressive ten albums of original material.
His first effort, Together and Alone (2005), proves a sophisticated start and offers a strong hint of the quality to come. “Could Have Fooled Me” is a wistful, blues-inspired meditation on life and loneliness. The spare guitar chords, plucked rather than strummed, provide a sufficient framework while letting the expression of the lyrics really shine through. Notice the way some lines blend into others, preventing the predictable trench that so many pop writers fall into.
On the second album, Things Have Changed, from 2006, there’s already evidence of Myles’ wide-ranging tastes and endless musical curiosity. The title song sports a Latin jazz sensibility. Even his voice seems to morph to fit the style – breathier, grittier, with longer diphthongs in his diction. The horns and drums make this track feel like a cross between Al Green and Rubén Blades.
You’d never guess this was the same man who sang “Could Have Fooled Me” if these were the only two Myles songs you’d heard. But in the context of his whole career, they both fit with his overall musicianship, ear for arrangement, and chameleon-like stylistic flexibility.
Myles demonstrates his compelling rhythm guitar skills (here with frequent collaborator Alan Jeffries) on “Cape Breton,” a song from the 2008 album On the Line. A large percentage of Myles’ songs are about romantic relationships, which is normally a deal-breaker for me, a guarantee that I’ll be bored quickly. But Myles takes so many approaches, both lyrically and musically, to the profoundly human condition of love that I’m endlessly diverted by what he has to say.
Efficiency is one of his trademarks. He does a lot with very little here: the strummed rhythms, a limited melody of repeating descending phrases, the basic but universally appealing concept of escaping on vacation:
Turn Time Off (2010) may be Myles’ strongest and most interesting album, both because of the writing and the production values. In “Lean into the Wind,” Myles gets the textures just right, with long melody lines over a chugging guitar rhythm reminiscent of Johnny Cash (who he’s an admitted fan of). The lyrics have a philosophical bent that you might find in a Cash song, too. Life keeps on going, so you might as well go with it.
Country music is an obvious long-term inspiration for Myles — the old-fashioned, primordial kind that still sounds more folk than big-business. “Don’t Look Back,” from the 2011 album Into the Sun, uses close miking and minimalist accompaniment of repeating bass octaves to help achieve an out-on-the-back-porch effect. Again, he’s got that Johnny Cash sense of restless motion:
Much of Myles’ output demonstrates how much respect he has for fellow musicians, trusting in them to help shape his sound in whatever style he’s exploring at the moment. For the 2013 album In the Nighttime, he relied on a friend with a skill set quite distinct from his own: the Canadian rapper Classified.
You might not expect the tough, urban beat of rap to nestle into the nooks and crannies of Myles’ cool jazziness and roots-music patina. But it turns out to be a great match. “How’d I Ever Think I Love You” is one of the songs produced by and featuring Classified. The way it combines pop with rap is worthy of Pharrell Williams or Beck on certain days.
This collaboration went both ways: the song “Inner Ninja” appeared on the rapper’s self-titled album Classified (2013) with Myles as a featured artist. The single won a Juno award and broke rap sales records in Canada. The two put out another single, “Work Away,” in 2016.
Despite that success, Myles has expressed some frustration with the difficulty of reproducing rap-inspired tracks live onstage. He longed to return to a bygone straightforward style of music that he could just walk out in front of an audience and play. Retro was the name of the game.
With his newest album, Real Love (2017), Myles explores yet another aspect of his musical psyche and yet another era of popular music. This time, ʼ50s rock and roll gets its due, with Myles paying tribute to the likes of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Chuck Berry. With a low, silky voice and a bass-intensive production aesthetic (by Dan Ledwell) that spotlights the grinding rhythms of rockabilly, Myles really commits to his new persona. Here’s the single “Real Love”:
Persona is the operative word. Even the packaging of this product — the album cover, the videos, Myles’ signature sharp suits — has been kicked up a notch, as if Myles is looking at this album as a new career level. Or maybe the particular artists he’s paying homage to on this one inspired a grander presentation. Whatever the reason, Myles keeps evolving.
He has dropped hints that his next album will be French. The possibilities are très extraordinaires.