Elles Bailey

2019

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It’s fair to say that this young talented singer and songwriter has firmly cemented her growing reputation with this, her second album, a really fine collection of eleven songs recorded in Nashville, with her excellent band and a bunch of session musicians, including a horn section that provide a Muscle Shoals feel to several numbers, as well as closer to home in Wales. The overall feel of the album has an Americana tinged feel, both in the themes of many songs, reflecting no doubt the influence of the number of different co-writers for most songs, as well as the expansive, soulful and Bluesy musical landscape presented, definitely more Western than West Country for this Bristol born singer.

Opening track ‘Hell or High Water’ sets the scene with a distinctive minor key guitar motif that could be the accompaniment to a cinematic view of a gun slinger riding slowly down a cliché main street in a sepia tinged shot; tasteful slide guitar licks help set the scene and single chords played on the down stroke underpin the confident vocals, with the drums entering half way through as a semi-middle eight/chorus starts “May I introduce the shape I’m in, I could write a book from the scars on my skin”, followed by a lovely slide solo. A powerful opener. The theme is continued with ‘Wild, Wild West’ which, after a strummed acoustic opening, launches almost immediately into the chorus “So come and give an eye for the main attraction, I’m going to promise you a real good show, for every lie there’s a chain reaction, through the curtains see the truth unfold, cut throat cheaters, gun slingers, deceivers, we’re in the wild, wild west”. A big anthemic feel and an obvious live crowd pleaser. ‘Deeper’ sounds like you’ve been transplanted back to the mid-70’s to a studio somewhere between Alabama and Memphis and Aretha is outside joking with the horn section while having a smoke; somewhere close by a brown river is chugging lazily through a burning landscape. ‘What’s The Matter With You’, opens with some Bluesy guitar and is all clipped chords, moody organ and nice guitar fills. This wouldn’t be out of place in a Beth Hart set actually.

If it isn’t clear, all these songs are really well crafted, very melodic with great hooks that stay in the memory and have depth. The playing is very sensitive to the songs and really well produced (take a bow Brad Nowell and Steve Blackmon). ‘Medicine Man’ epitomises the feel of the album, a delicious slide intro playing a swampy riff played low down on the neck, played in between the vocal lines “mirrors and smoke and trickery, your very own real life make believe, bring your own money and get in line, two for a nickel, three for a dime, miracle cures for aching bones, but he takes your gold and sells you stones” building up to a powerful chorus and wailing multiple layers of slide. A really good song. The whole album is great: the title track is a big, punchy song with a rocking chord and jangling guitar backing that is straight into the chorus. ‘Help Somebody’ is another catchy number that preaches a global message, “we need to help somebody, try a little tenderness and a whole lot of love” with a clever chord change on the chorus and pumping horns throughout. With a harmonica solo; ‘Foolish Hearts’ is a big Country ballad that possibly points to where this fabulous singer is heading, whilst ‘Little Piece of Heaven’, written with Black Keys man Dan Auerbach, is the most Pop, crossover sounding track, a really catchy ditty.

Elles maturity as a songwriter is displayed on the final track ‘Light In the Distance’, a beautiful song, all her own, inspired by the final days of a friend: “these are weary bones I carry, all I once was, gone before, time to sleep in, endless dreaming, a light aboard from distant shores, but for now hold my hand as I leave for the promised land, because there’s a light in the distance, calling me home, I’m not afraid, this broken body is ready for its soul to roam.” Accompanied only by solo piano, played by Jimmy Nichols, this is a moving piece and shows that the singer is not afraid to move away from the Blues/Country territory she is associated with. There are no duff tracks on this collection, which bears repeated listening and is highly recommended. Is it too soon to ask when the next album is coming? I can’t wait.

Simon Green