Article Review

Sam Dowdell – “Distraction”

Vancouver-based Dowdell carries forward Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” into upbeat pop.

We now cover the new single by Sam Dowdell, “Distraction”. It dropped on Friday, October 2nd, and you can check it out here:

Listen to Sam Dowdell

On October 1, 2020, Dowdell performed an Instagram Live set with her friend and fellow artist Cenzina. So, here’s the set list:

I mark original songs in bold, and the song credits come from Spotify.

  1. “Wait a Minute!” (James Chul Rim, Willow Smith)
  2. “Masters of Disguise” (Samantha Emilyn Dowdell, Shane Stephenson)
  3. “Down” (Jack McGuinness, Maria Cenzina Sicilia)
  4. “Growing Pains” (Samantha Emilyn Dowdell)
  5. “Oz” (Maria Cenzina Sicilia)
  6. “Distraction” (A. Fitzpatrick, F. Henson, S.E. Dowdell, T. Ainsworth)
  7. “Juice” (Maria Cenzina Sicilia)
  8. “Havana” (Camila Cabello, 9 other writers) / “Smooth” (Itaal Shur, Rob Thomas)

I don’t focus on Camila Cabello and Willow Smith(!) as pop reference points for Sam Dowdell “Distraction”. Instead, I feel an Emily King and Corinne Bailey Rae vibe.

Dowdell calls Cenzina “a brilliant lyricist-poet” and praises “Oz” in particular. Beyond the multiple vocalists, the backing instrumentalists for this set were:

  • David Ziehr (guitar)
  • Darian Farkas (guitar)
  • Dom Pilapil (keyboards)
  • Adrian Fitzpatrick (bass)
  • Ricardo Germain (drums)

The song + the recording

“Distraction” has four co-writers, and all of them also performed on the recording:

  1. Dowdell (vocals)
  2. Fitzpatrick (bass), Dowdell’s primary musical partner who contributes a classic P-bass sound and sturdiness to this track
  3. Trevor Ainsworth (drums), an active local session musician and performer especially with the artist SOLA
  4. Francis Henson (guitar), a Port Moody singer-songwriter and guitarist

Let’s go back to the tightly integrated crew who performed the Live set, because we can see the common contributors. Farkas was also involved in the production, and Ziehr recorded the track at Echoplant Recording Studios.

Henson’s guitar break at 1:12 of the track adds a dash of Vulf to the track. He’s both a blues guitar devotee and an up-and-coming Canadian answer to Theo Katzman. “She knows how to pick a good crew,” Henson says of Dowdell. I was in the company of great, funny, and musical people.”

Before 2:30 of the recording, Dowdell confidently locks into a groove in vocal breaks. She doesn’t miss a beat from her solid backing band.

The background for Sam Dowdell

On October 4, 2020, Dowdell called me around Hope or Chilliwack for the interview, and I geeked out about past connections.

Let’s go back several years in New Westminster’s youth music scene. Dowdell had fronted the band Alluvium, and they performed a 2013 showcase performance at Massey Theatre for the chance to open for Hey Ocean. That’s because singer Ashleigh Ball was among Dowdell’s big influences in local indie-pop.

Dowdell added fresh optimism to the heavy guitar band Alluvium, and she describes engineering a new sound with them in a supportive environment.

They spent time in parents’ backyards and in sessions with producer Shane Stephenson. Additionally, she drove the teenage members to and from gigs. It was her first time singing with a band. “We were creative because we fought constantly, but it’s the most creative project I’ve ever been in for sure,” Dowdell says.

Choral inspiration

Another pillar of this young scene was the Coastal Sound Youth Choir. So, I sensed that Dowdell draws from them every time she sings:

“I really learned how to sing because of Coastal Sound. I learned that I was a soprano, although I always identified with alto. So, head voice is the main voice I sing in. But I used to sing completely in chest voice. I loved being in that choir! I got a lot of my singing and teaching inspiration from Carrie Tennant and the way she taught us.”

-Sam Dowdell

Dowdell has since been both an artist and a teacher in the Lower Mainland. “I wouldn’t do what I do unless I’m enjoying it, so best to surround myself with people who are enjoying it too.” She sees potential in taking a long-term, 12-to-18 month timeline to complete a pop-R&B album.

Musically, “Distraction” carries forward Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” into an upbeat pop atmosphere.

As Dowdell continues growing as an artist, I’m fascinated to see if these influences also drive her lyrics, and if she adds more social commentary to match.

Choose your streaming platform here and listen to “Distraction” by Sam Dowdell.

By Will Chernoff

William Ross Chernoff—known as Will to friends and colleagues—is a jazz musician, podcaster, YouTuber, and writer. He records and performs under his own name, William Chernoff.