Sunday, February 20, 2022

Elles Bailey - Shining In The Half-Light

Let’s not mess about.  Shining In The Half-Light is the best album yet from Elles Bailey.
It was obvious from her first two albums, Wildfire and Road I Call Home, that the girl could go far.  This time around the block though, she’s taken a big felt-tip pen and ticked a whole heap of boxes with a flourish.
The songs here are strong, and more consistent than on past outings.  The production by Dan Weller is uncluttered but warm and bright, bringing out the best in some excellent arrangements.  For my money she’s also benefited from recording the album here, with her own band alongside her, rather than going to Nashville as planned – this sounds like the work of an ensemble who
Elles Bailey is tickled pink by the Blues Enthused review
Pic by Rob Blackham
are quite naturally more than the sum of their parts.  And while the quality of Bailey’s voice is a given, Shining In The Half-Light is given an extra lift by some stellar backing vocals, arranged by Izo Fitzroy and delivered by her, Jade Elliot and Andrusilla Mosley.
Songs like ‘The Game’, with its crunchy guitar chords, and surging organ from Jonny Henderson, are pleasingly muscular.  It sounds like they’re having fun when they strip back one of the choruses to just voices and handclaps, and the only problem with the slide break by Joe Wilkins – the long-time guitar yin to Bailey’s vocal yang - is that it’s too short.  Never mind, his slide is back right away on the patient but punchy ‘Stones’, providing a moaning intro and then extra grit with a brief solo – and in general becoming one of the signature sounds across the album.
Bailey is at her best on ‘Colours Start To Run’, with a low key arrangement highlighting her voice on a delicious, swoonsome melody.  And her phrasing is then terrific on the romantic ‘A Different Kind Of Love’, which opens with a sensitive Wilkins guitar line that carries echoes of Gladys Knight’s ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, and has an extra layer of soul courtesy of the superb, gospel-inflected contributions of Fitzroy and co.  It’s all about Bailey’s delivery on the slow and haunted ‘Halfway House’ too, the only song here with distinct Americana leanings, and she shows excellent control and clarity as she’s backed by just acoustic guitar for much of the track.
Contrastingly, ‘Sunshine City’ is an upbeat, booty-shaking highlight, with a fuzzy, rocking riff and Bailey singing about “Tom Petty hits on the radio”, while Wilkins spices things up further with injections of slide and eventually a shivering solo.  And ‘Riding Out The Storm’ is even better, a hazy, bluesy affair on which Bailey brings to life the lyric about “what a beautiful mess we have made of the story”, underscored by some sweet slide guitar commentary, flutters of organ, and more of those gospel-tinged backing vocals.
The album closes with the title track, a spooky tune held together by relaxed rubber band bass lines from Matthew Waer over lightly skipping drums from Matthew Jones, with twinkling piano and guitar notes in the margins.  The lyric meditates on the challenge of overcoming the isolation of precarious times, and Bailey captures the mood well, culminating in the nagging melody she circles around as they build a tense bridge, before subsiding to a hopeful close.
There’s little to get picky about on Shining In The Half-Light.  The opening ‘Cheats And Liars’ is too Elles-Bailey-by-numbers for me, and in the future she could perhaps curb her enthusiasm for “woo-ooh” vocal phrases – but hey, I’m praising with the faintest of damns here.
“Elles Bailey brings the sounds of Nashville to our side of the pond with her blues-ridden third album,” it says in the PR bumf, as these things do.  But it’s wrong.  The great thing about Shining In The Half-Light is that it doesn’t sound like Nashville.  It sounds like Elles Bailey dancing, as she puts it on ‘The Game’, to the beat of her own blues.

Shining In The Half-Light is released on 25 February, and can be ordered here.

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