The last few years have been a roller-coaster for Laila Biali.
For nearly every major triumph—a highly acclaimed return to jazz, winning the JUNO Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, touring the world—the singer-songwriter has faced a private debilitating crisis. In just a few short years, Biali lost a close friend, mourned a family member, and dealt with health challenges of her own. It was a period of change and heartache—but it was also a season of great inspiration and hope. The result is Biali’s deeply personal new album, Out of Dust.
“These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss,” Biali reveals. “I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life's greatest trials can produce something meaningful, if only to make us more empathetic to the struggles of those around us.”
This hard-won optimism is apparent in the music. Instead of giving into the darkness, Out of the Dust finds Biali luxuriating in the light. Co-produced by Biali and her husband, Ben Wittman, the album is a celebration of life; warm and uplifting even as it confronts her recent challenges (and the current political climate!) head-on.
The political is personal on the brassy album opener, “Revival.” Transforming global tumult into an inspiring call-to-arms, she sings with the clear-eyed confidence of a warrior, “Come on down / There’s a fire underground!” This fervor animates the entire album, even its quieter, more personal moments:
“Wendy’s Song,” a piano ballad dedicated to the friend she lost, turns the details of a single life into a powerful epic; “Glass House,” which she co-wrote with her husband, frankly addresses the after-effects of a family member’s struggle with mental health issues; “Take the Day Off” bluntly acknowledges the reality of healing with Biali singing that it’s OK to “pull the sheets over your head” and “unwind” when you need to. Even “Take Me To The Alley,” the album’s sole cover, holds special meaning for Biali: she sang an ethereal version of the Gregory Porter song at her friend’s memorial.
In addition to contributions from Biali’s husband, Out of the Dust features multiple GRAMMY nominees and winners including vocalist Lisa Fisher, saxophonists John Ellis and Godwin Louis, drummer Larnell Lewis, and trombonist Alan Ferber, who composed all the horn arrangements. The album’s collaborative atmosphere led to “Au pays de Cocagne,” Biali’s first French co-write, which was created with francophone singer Sonia Johnson.
“There's a line from a song by the indie gospel group, Gungor, that has become like an anthem to me,” Biali says. “‘He makes beautiful things out of dust.’ That's where the title for the album comes from, and as a songwriter and musician, my ultimate intention and hope is to spread a little more love.”