When Rockin’ Out last checked in with Portland-based singer-songwriter Emilia Dahlin, it was April 2005 and Dahlin had just released two albums, “Stealing Glimpses” and a self-titled collection. In the 5½ years since, a lot has changed. Dahlin has been around the world and back, released two more albums, and been voted Best Female Vocalist three years in a row (2005-2007) by the Portland Phoenix. Her sound has shifted from funky acoustic pop to worldly, jazz-influenced folk music, though her spirit remains the same.
“I definitely feel like the storytelling aspect of my songs has become a lot stronger, as well as the move towards vintage jazz,” said Dahlin, now 32. “I’ve branched out. I think I’ve come into my own, and started to discover just what exactly I wanted to bring to the table. I’ve found my sound.”
Her most recent album, “Rattle Them Bones,” came out in the spring of 2009 and epitomizes that creative shift and reinvigoration. Shortly after it came out, though, Dahlin embarked on the journey of a lifetime. For a full year, Dahlin, her husband and six other people traveled to Portugal, Scotland, Brazil, India and Indonesia as part of a service trip with Beyond Boundaries, an organization devoted to understanding how communities work across the globe.
“We visited villages and neighborhoods all over the world, trying to understand what it is that holds them together, and how you create a sustainable community,” said Dahlin. “We wanted to understand how they address issues like education, health care, spirituality, social justice. It definitely was a life-changing experience.”
In particular, Dahlin focused on her time in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where she lived and worked for three months with a group of musicians in a favela — a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. Through her collaboration with the neo-samba group Poesia Samba Soul, she gained a newfound appreciation for Brazilian music, and for the ways in which music can cross cultural boundaries.
She has kept in touch with Poesia Samba Soul since she returned to the states, and has been trading song fragments and musical parts with them, trying to put together an album.
“I want to bring them up here [to the United States] to record and do some touring,” she said. “We’re meshing and melding genres together.”
The album won’t be out for a while, but in the meantime, Dahlin is easing her way back into her life as a songwriter in Maine. She returned to the United States in the summer and has played a few gigs. Her next performance is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, in a show co-sponsored by Belfast mu-sic venue Roots & Tendrils. Admission is $10. For information, visit www.emiliadahlin.com.
Also performing will be fellow songwriter Putnam Smith. Dahlin’s performance Thursday will be taped to be edited into a music video.
Her globe-trotting has permanently changed her perspective — both as a citizen of the world and as a musician. There’s less time for the showbiz angle of music, and more focus on … well, the music.
“In the past, I think I was so focused on the business of music that I sometimes didn’t pay as much attention to the craft of it,” said Dahlin. “Now I’m really dedicated to making better music, and really honing my skill at my instrument. I have a new, even bigger appreciation for it.”