B I O
J A N E T C U L L
The question of what constitutes great soul music has been endlessly debated for decades. But what’s been proven by now is that it’s the domain of any artist, regardless of where they’re from, who can completely reveal themselves through their music, to the point where listeners feel a connection far deeper than mere entertainment.
There are many other ways to describe Janet Cull’s third full-length album Hear It, but at its heart it is a reflection of her (and our) often complicated relationships, expressed through a voice unlike any other in Canada. Having firmly established her reputation up to this point in her native Newfoundland—where she has been honoured with multiple MusicNL Awards—Janet is now poised to make her mark everywhere else with 12 songs that one could be forgiven thinking were recorded in Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the early ‘70s.
In fact, Hear It was recorded in St. John’s with co-producer Mark Feener and a band consisting of some of Janet’s trusted collaborators including multi-instrumentalist Jason Howard, guitarist Brad Jefford and bassist Josh Ward. Having this core group record the album’s basic tracks live in the studio was the key element in allowing Janet’s voice to fully soar, and the results are stunning.
“This album consists entirely of original songs that came from a very deep place within myself,” Janet says. “I had some friends co-write some of the music to certain tracks, but the content is derived from my experiences. I was living what I’m singing about, and I’ve never shared such personal things on any of my other albums.”
Indeed, from Hear It’s opening track, “The Only Thing Changing Is You,” we find ourselves observing the aftermath of a broken affair, beginning with a spoken introduction and culminating in a full-throated catharsis. And there are still 11 songs to go. The album’s roller coaster of emotions is kept on track by the band’s sultry and unwavering grooves, but it is Janet’s dynamic range that truly mesmerizes. It is not hyperbole to say she is in the same class as Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones or any other vocalist who has bled for their craft.
“These songs came to be because I literally pressed record on my phone and just started singing what I was feeling,” she says. “It was a way to release the hurt I was going through. Most songs obviously are about the relationship turmoil I was experiencing with my husband at the time. I never knew for sure what melodies or lyrics were going to come out of me, I just trusted myself. I didn’t overthink it—I would just open my mouth and sing.”
Although Janet at first made attempts to compose on piano, she soon found it easier to craft melodies by simply singing a cappella. An example she points to is Hear It’s title track, which came to her as she sat behind a drum kit during a session. She quickly determined to infuse the entire album with that spontaneous energy, and let the musicians follow her lead. As she says, “My voice is my instrument and that’s when I realized this is how I should be writing all the time.
It changed everything. The songs just started pouring out of me.”
Janet had an immediate impact on the Newfoundland music scene upon her arrival in the early 2000’s with the album The Janet Cull Band, which earned MusicNL awards for Album of the Year and Group of the Year. Her next full-length release, in collaboration with Kelly-Ann Evans entitled People Get Ready, garnered an East Coast Music Awards nomination. But it was Janet’s 2016 album Real Tough Love that found her reaching new heights. On top of bringing her three more MusicNL awards, it brought her to stages all across Newfoundland, including a handpicked appearance opening for the legendary k.d. lang.
Being singled out by a hero is certainly something no artist ever forgets, and it was another of the elements that fueled Janet’s creation of Hear It, along with the gospel music she grew up singing in church, her longtime admiration of Alicia Keys, and her lifelong love of Motown. All told, it’s the ingredients of a modern soul music classic, which is precisely what Hear It is.
“I feel like I’m offering the world my most authentic self right now” Janet says. “When I started my career as a singer, I knew where I wanted to go with the music in terms of sound. But... it takes years of learning how to make that happen. And listening. And working with other musicians who truly listen. It’s the only way you get there—you gotta HEAR IT.”