by Steve Paikin Tuesday August 19, 2008

It's not often you read about popular music on this website, but we're making an exception for Melanie Doane.

I first met Melanie a decade ago, when she was promoting her Adam's Rib album. She was a guest on TVO's former current affairs offering, Studio 2, and all of us who participated on that shoot were dazzled by two things in particular: Melanie's musical talent, and what a pleasure it was to be in her company.

She is, at the risk of using an under-appreciated adjective, awfully nice.

Adam's Rib was a big hit. But rather than immediately following it up with a new album, Melanie instead somewhat withdrew from the music scene to have two children with her equally talented husband Ted Dykstra, the actor, director, and writer.

Those children are now six and four and are the inspiration for her first album in five years, "A Thousand Nights."

It was her husband who, sort of, came up with the name of the album. He recalled the toilet cleaning product "1000 Flushes" which, in its name, described how long it would work to sanitize your bowl.

So Doane took the idea, thinking the love songs on her new album could be heard a thousand times, over and over, when played to children, without becoming stale.

"I hate to admit that thing you put in your toilet was the inspiration for the title," Doane tells me over a cup of coffee on The Danforth. "But it was."

So the idea behind "A Thousand Nights"?

"It won't make you crazy to play it over and over," Melanie says. "It's high quality."

Yes it is. What's immediately different about this album are the collaborations with other talented vocalists. Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy, Emilie-Claire Barlow, and Kathryn Rose all lend a hand with duets. Hubby Ted also does a fine Tom Waits sound-alike on "Martha," (written by Waits).

"I picked the A-list," Doane says. "These are the people I wanted to sing with and I got everyone I wanted."

She got Jim Cuddy by calling his manager (yes, she called. She laughed at me when I asked why "her people" didn't make the approach.  "I don't have people," she said).

She got Ron Sexsmith to sign on by e-mailing him in Australia. She wanted to do "Devoted to You," the Everly Brothers tune, with him and he was happily on board with that.

Emilie-Claire, Kathryn, and Melanie had previously collaborated at Melanie's brother's wedding.

"Emilie-Claire said she normally hated singing duets," Melanie confessed. "But she said she liked singing with us."

Since the wedding, the trio has done an annual gig at Hugh's Room in Toronto.

As any parent who puts children to bed knows, it can be an enormous pain in the neck. So Melanie had been looking to put together an album that could be played to children to encourage them to fall asleep more quickly and peacefully.

"A Thousand Nights" started as a personal project that Melanie thought of only sharing with family and friends. But the more people heard it, the more they thought it should reach a wider audience.

"When my children are going to sleep, sometimes I think it'll never happen," Melanie says. "But then it does and it's a perfect miraculous moment."

Several years ago, Melanie struck up a friendship with actor Gary Sinese. The American film and television star was shooting a movie in Vancouver when he saw Doane on TV. He wanted to meet her, so he had a message sent to Doane, insisting she come to a party at Planet Hollywood that night.

The message was only from a "Gary S," and Doane assumed it was an actor friend of Ted's. When she showed up and Gary Sinese welcomed her with, "Hey guys, Melanie's here," Doane was shocked to learn Gary S's identity. Then she met Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron who were also there.

Sinese has been a big booster of Doane's career, offering some funds to get her work to a wider audience. Rumors of a million dollar helping hand are vastly exaggerated, says Doane.

"I'm very thankful," she says. "People assumed he was bankrolling me. He wasn't. But it was certainly very helpful."

Sinese plays the bass in his own band and has asked Melanie to collaborate several times. Sometimes she does (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles shows). Sometimes she doesn't (a U.S. aircraft carrier and The Pentagon --- "I'm a Canadian. I'd feel weird going to play The Pentagon," she says).

One of the more touching tracks on the new album is "Baby Makes Three," written by Melanie. I ask her why she didn't sing that song with Ted, given such personal lyrics.

"That was written for Ted," she says of her husband of 17 years.  "I wanted to let him know that it's all right, I still love you. I can get very focussed on the kids, but you are still my #1. You may not feel that way all the time, but I'm letting you know we'll get things back to the way they were."

I assured her she was right. But that it wouldn't happen for another 10 to 15 years!

Doane is heading home to the Maritimes for a mini-tour to promote her new album. Then she's doing a show at Hamilton Place on October 18.

I didn't need reminding of Doane's talent --- I've been listening to her CD a lot over the past few weeks. Nor did I need reminding of her kindness. But I got a reminder anyway.

"Thanks for listening," she said at the end of our conversation, as she headed out the door.  

Can't remember the last time an interviewee ever said that to me.

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