Edmonton’s Miss Rae has been feeling the blues for her entire young life
Cheyenne Rae Bruneau cracks up as she realizes she just called her guitar player, Warren ‘Magic’ Chan, a “young kid.”
“He’s a year older than me,” Bruneau laughs.
You can forgive the 26-year-old Edmonton blues woman, who performs as Miss Rae, for feeling like an old soul. First, there’s that voice. Bruneau has a powerful, mature, show-stopping instrument that fills a room to the rafters. Think Etta James, Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.
Then there’s the fact she’s been steeping in the blues her whole life. Bruneau was first exposed to live music at the legendary Sidetrack Café, where her mother took her to blues jams as a nine-year-old.
As a young woman, Bruneau took a Greyhound bus pilgrimage through the American South, tracing the roots of the blues. She stood on the plantation porch where Howlin’ Wolf and Son House jammed, stayed in the Mississippi hotel where John Lee Hooker and slept where Bessie Smith died.
But it took a classic Edmonton experience to make a 16-year-old Bruneau realize that she too could be a performer.
“It was when I went to the Edmonton Folk Fest and I saw Sharon Jones sing onstage,” Bruneau says. “I remember seeing an interview and she was talking about how record labels said she was too short, too fat, too black. But she just did it, regardless of being torn down. She was a very different person to see on stage. So I thought, ‘it’s okay to be different.’”
That same year, Bruneau moved to Winnipeg where she immersed herself in the local music scene as a photographer and studied filmmaking. She went to Sunday night blues jams (“Should I say this? I started going to that bar to see music when I was 16—they didn’t know how old I was!”) and honed her chops onstage. By 23, she’d recorded her first album Big Boned Woman, live-off-the-floor to tape with local players.
But the ever-restless singer wanted to see more. She moved to Paris, renting an apartment in the heart of the city. Bruneau sang in Metro stations, then cafés, with only a guitarist to accompany her. It was an exposed way to perform—there was no band for her voice to hide behind.
“It stripped down my vocal abilities and rebuilt them,” she says. “When I sang it had to make an impact.”
And now is Bruneau’s time to make that impact. Back in her hometown of Edmonton, she’s assembled a serious band of local players: Clayton Sample on guitar, Grant Stovel on drums, Christ Grapel on upright bass and Septimus Alexander on tenor saxophone. She grew up listening to Sample and Stovel play at the Sidetrack Café, and now they’re backing her as she grows into a powerful artist.
Bruneau and her band, the Midnight Ramblers, will be heading into Edmontone Studio to record the follow-up to Big Boned Woman with noted local producer Doug Organ, who had also spent time in Paris honing his musical skills. It’s only been four years since her first album, but for Bruneau that might as well be a lifetime.
“I feel like my first album was my baby album,” she says. “I had such a young voice then and now I have a lot more power, I can project better, I can control my voice better. It’s time to show what I can do.”
Sat., Jan. 27 (9:30 pm)
Miss Rae & the Midnight Ramblers
The Rec Room, West Edmonton Mall