Shay Wolf’s Stay EP

Out now on streaming services

Supplied photo

Prairie born-and-raised artist Shay Wolf’s debut EP, Stay, is available now on all major streaming platforms. Prowling the scene since 2016 as an artist and creator, the Winnipeg-based songwriter has chosen now to pounce into plain view.

Stay is a feather-light foursome of ballads that showcase Wolf’s range and sometimes limitations. A trained classical pianist, Wolf wisely centres her debut here on the double threat of her airy lilt of a voice, very much reminiscent of other singers in the folk-pop sphere, as well as her keywork, which is paradoxically delightful in its melancholy.

Overseeing the production is prolific Winnipeg-based producer John Paul Peters, with additional instrumentation provided by drummer Jon Plett and cellist Julian Bradford, among others. Sparse musical arrangements and sombre textures reign supreme throughout.

The EP opens with the titular track “Stay,” a minimalist and endearing ballad that immediately conjures reverie-like imagery as Wolf implores a lover to stay for just one more moment. Despite some complementary studio effects and production choices, this is the cleanest exhibition of Wolf’s technical ability, as her voice deftly soars, and the tumble of her pianism serves as the track’s foundation.

In “Alone Together,” Wolf duets, or perhaps duels, with the buck and bending of a guttural, bluesy guitar. With the first introduction of another major musical element, she establishes the forward momentum that will continue to ramp up over the rest of the EP.

The morale boosting of “Fighting” is a highlight, a quietly triumphant power piece that crescendos with a touch gentle but firm. And closing stomp-clap pop tune “Deeper” is fundamentally sound if a slight betrayal of the rest of the EP’s textures.

Lyrically, Stay is somewhat anodyne, with words clear and concise enough for imagining the inspiration without quite feeling it. I can appreciate the catharsis of a track like “Stay,” even if the imagery of walking a moonlit night is a bit played out.

But what is said is less important than how it is said. The lyrics here function best as a vehicle for demonstrating Wolf’s enviable vocal talent. Her melismatic manner of vocalization can stand proudly among the emerging artists of this era of music.

This EP could neatly fit amongst the bevy of similar folk-pop that came about during the mid-to-late 2000s. Influence from artists such as Regina Spektor and Feist is plainly felt, and the best of this project will titillate the same sensibilities that made that earnest era of pop songwriting so effortlessly popular.

But Wolf threatens some of her own credibility, as the track “Deeper” evidently vies for the kind of Top 40 territory that artists like Spektor and Feist proved doesn’t need to be conformed to.

One thing to consider about this particular record is that it is essentially an auricular debutante ball. Where Wolf comes up short stylistically, she makes up in terms of technical ability, and that’s not to say this EP left me totally cold. Colour me impressed, if not especially touched.

Published in Volume 77, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 16, 2023)

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