In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a host of excellent female roots-orientated artists kicking around just now. And among them, Elles Bailey has made her own mark in the last couple of years. Combining soul, blues and country stylings, she has a terrific voice, and across her debut album Wildfire and this follow-up she also demonstrates real talent as a songwriter.
Both those strengths are apparent in three of the slower offerings here. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ is a bluesy, deceptively simple-sounding highlight, on which Bailey’s husky, Elkie Brooks-ish voice is paired with flutters of conversational organ and guitar to create the kind of intimate, emotional atmosphere that's done so well by Sean Webster. (And by the way, I’d love to hear Elles revive Elkie’s old hit ‘Pearl’s A Singer’ – it would fit her like a glove.) The trick is repeated on ‘Foolish Hearts’, which couples a soulful verse that echoes ‘I’d
Rather Go Blind’ with a more country-orientated chorus to good effect. And the album is topped off by ‘A Light In The Distance’, a heartfelt piano and voice ballad that benefits from the decision to eschew further instrumentation as it conveys real emotional truthfulness.
|Elles Bailey, taking "on the road" a bit too literally|
Pic by Alex Berger
But it’s not all downbeat contemplation. At the centre of the album, the title track is a brisk, exciting affair driven by a rocking, ringing riff and walloping drums, with briefly duelling guitars and an appealing descending hook on the chorus, as Bailey tells the tale of the touring musician. And she demonstrates a healthy streak of soul on the likes of ‘Deeper’ and ‘Help Somebody’. The former has a light touch, reminiscent of Deacon Blue, with an enjoyable melody, swirls of organ and horn interventions. The latter is a slice of robust, upbeat soul, with thudding drums, neat horn riffs, well-judged organ and piano fills, bursts of slide and moans of harp – and a strong harp solo – all coming together in a well-constructed song that also benefits from some evocative imagery.
To me though, one of the risks of writing and recording in Nashville, as Bailey has largely done here, is the potential for material to become homogenised. So while opener ‘Hell Or High Water’ is an effective, brooding affair, with twinkling and squiggly notes heralding a bluesy vocal from Bailey that builds patiently with asides from slide guitar, until eventually the band blends in to raise the temperature, ‘Wild Wild West’ and ‘Medicine Man’ are essentially more of the same.
But there are some other avenues explored to maintain enough variety, notably the jangly, Pretenders-like pop of ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’, which has a catchy chorus even if the descending turnaround that brackets it is a bit corny. And ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’, even if not a standout, is a well assembled melding of soul and country, though I could do without the slurred note that Bailey deploys a couple of times.
When Elles Bailey is good, she’s really good. And she’s never bad – just a bit samey and so-so here and there. But Road I Call Home absolutely deserves attention for those classy moments of emotional depth, and more besides. Get on the bus and join her on the road.