Dauphin singer/songwriter Desiree Dorion may be a country girl, but she's got a rock 'n' roll past.
As an enterprising six year old, she stole her uncle's cassette copy of Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction and dubbed her vocals over it. (Apparently, she felt Axl Rose's vocal performance on Paradise City was lacking.)
"Surprisingly, I never delved into production," she deadpans. "I don't know where I heard you could record over a tape. You can hear this little voice singing, 'Take me down to the paradise city...'"
That little voice is now a great big one, as evidenced by her latest release, this year's Small Town Stories. She's finally giving the album a proper CD release party at the Windsor on tonight, which just happens to be her 30th birthday.
For this effort, which serves as the followup to 2010's Soul Back Jack (a favourite at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards), Dorion wanted to focus on honing her vocal chops. She spent two weeks in Nashville working with renowned vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams, who has worked with the likes of Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban, among others. "She changed my entire approach to singing -- I think for the better," Dorion says.
Her voice wasn't the only tool she wanted to sharpen.
"I also wanted to make a concerted effort to improve my songwriting as a craft," she says. "And I wanted to tell honest stories, stories that related to people."
Nominated for both a 2013 APCMA and 2013 Indian Summer Music Award, Small Town Stories was recorded in Winnipeg with producer Arun Chaturvedi and sees Dorion achieve her goals. It's a sophisticated, radio-ready country album, with plenty of (cowboy) hat-tips to the country greats of yore she grew up listening to; her voice skews more Dolly Parton than, say, Taylor Swift.
Dorion's pleased with how the end product turned out.
"I was more picky with the songs and I held myself to a higher standard," she says.
Dorion is no stranger to hard work and demanding more of herself. In addition to a burgeoning career as a musician, she balances motherhood (she has a young daughter and is expecting her second child) and a full-time job as a divorce and child protection lawyer. Although she claims she's "not that disciplined" when it comes to songwriting, she makes time for it at least twice a week.
Music, too, provides some necessary respite from a heavy day job.
"It's not a happy area of law to practice," she says. "Music is a complementary balance to my day job. I'm dealing with people in their worst moments. Music is a really good outlet."