Prominent Canadian jazz musicians Elizabeth Shepherd and Michael Occhipinti have joined forces as ES:MO, releasing their debut album The Weight of Hope as a newly formed duo.
The project combines both musicians’ abilities, creative backgrounds and individual accolades, with 15 total Juno Award nominations between the two of them.
ES:MO’s The Weight of Hope is a collection of the duo’s creative explorations in multiple genres including jazz, R&B, folk and Americana — making it hard to put a simple, definitive label on the album. Shepherd and Occchipinti tasked themselves with adapting existing songs and adding contemporary elements and their own creative imprint.
“It’s like walking a tightrope — we want to honour the song and have the artist be both pleased and surprised,” Occhipinti says.
Lead single “Any Other Way” was originally written by William Bell and later performed by the Toronto soul and R&B icon Jackie Shane. With the song, ES:MO looks to honour Shane’s legacy as a captivating musician and pioneering transgender performer as well as pay tribute the R&B sound that characterized Toronto’s Yonge Street in the 1960s.
The Weight of Hope features re-imagined the works of other legendary Canadian artists such as Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn, as well as Stevie Wonder.
Having crossed paths on tour, each has made successful careers for themselves. Shepherd is a multidimensional vocalist who has been longlisted for the Polaris Prize and performed internationally in iconic venues including the Hollywood Bowl, while Occhipinti has distinguished himself as a versatile and creative guitarist who has performed with iconic artists including Andrea Bocelli and Bruce Cockburn. This marks their first focused collaboration after almost a decade of being featured in each other’s respective projects and tours.
The Weight of Hope showcases Shepherd and Occchipinti’s talents and versatility as a duo and spans a number of genres, eras and social issues. The final track “Moon Ray” offers a sneak peek into what the future looks like for their next album — a project already in the works.
Here’s the track listing:
- Any Other Way
- Lovers in a Dangerous Time
- October Daughters
- Pacing the Cage
- The Weight of Hope
- Night Comes On
- Lord of the Starfields
- Wondering Where the Lions Are
- All the Lovely Ladies
- Moon Ray
The Weight of Hope is available now via Modica Music.