Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Elles Bailey - Live At The Fire Station

It was a year ago yesterday that I wrote a review of Elles Bailey playing live in Edinburgh, and since Live At The Fire Station is a document of the same tour, one might wonder what more there is to say beyond what I wrote then.  But as it turns out, the album provides the opportunity for a deeper appreciation of certain aspects of her live show.
For one thing, it may be Elles Bailey’s name on the backdrop, but she ain’t doing this alone, and Fire Station absolutely justifies her calling on the audience at the end of ‘Sunshine City’ to “Give it up for this incredible band!”  It’s not that there are lots of jaw-dropping individual showcases
Elles Bailey - cooking up a perfect storm
being served up – though there are a few excellent solo spots.  But as an ensemble this gang absolutely click as they deliver some quality arrangements that allow the songs, and Bailey’s vocals, to shine.
A good example is ‘Perfect Storm’, which evolves in measured fashion over Matthew Jones’ tripping drums.  There are no displays of flashy virtuosity, but in addition to the fuzzy guitar stings from Joe Wilkins and dreamy organ from Jonny Henderson, Matthew Waer unwraps some delicious bass variations - having already found some tasty grooves on the preceding ‘Colours Start To Run’.  Meanwhile the soulful voice of backing singer Demi Marriner – who wasn’t available for last year’s Edinburgh gig – complement Bailey’s lead vocal beautifully.
This is not, by any means, an isolated example. ‘Stones’ is a simple enough song, but the arrangement is always interesting, with Wilkins’ angle-grinding slide injections and edgy solo, along with Marriner’s voice, adding some spice to Bailey’s own impressive delivery.  It is, mind you, one of numerous instances of Bailey’s fondness for “Ah-wooh-ah-ooh” type vocal interpolations, a tendency she could do with tempering in her future writing.  No such qualms about the aforementioned ‘Colours Start To Run’ though, which is really all about the melody and the vocals, peaking in a pre-chorus and chorus which are downright divine, and do justice to some superb lyrics.  And speaking of lyrics, the brooding, sophisticated and cleverly structured ‘Shining In The Half-Light’ is as good a bit of writing as you’re going to get about the alienation that comes with our modern online life.
Sophistication comes in different forms of course.  ‘Spinning Stopped’ is a delicate lullaby which is kept very simple, and is all the better for it.  Meanwhile the halting ‘Halfway House' comes over like a folk song that’s been bathed in soul, and is all about another marvellous chorus, elevated by the backing vocals of Marriner and, indeed, Wilkins.  Bailey may be an Americana award-winner, but to me these outings are far more convincing than the cowboy blues Americana arrangement of ‘Medicine Man’, which is in any case outdone in its own terms by the gripping ‘Cheats And Liars’, with its stronger chorus and better dynamics.  Basically, Elles Bailey has some better shots in her locker than ‘Medicine Man’.
Bailey and co can rock out too, in case you were wondering.  The inspired good-time cover of John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill’ is upbeat from the off, but they don’t half whack out the latter part of it.  Meantime the revved-up ending of ‘Hole In My Pocket’ gives a big lift to the rather middle-of-the-road song, with Wilkins’ guitar scrabbling around like a Jackson Pollock painting.  But it’s with the set-closer ‘Riding Out The Storm’ and the encore ‘Sunshine City’ that they really hit rocking paydirt. The former is a great song, the verse drawing you in towards a chorus that’s sublime, with a great hook, and I do love a good false ending, especially when it allows Joe Wilkins to take the spotlight and dig out a sizzling solo. And ‘Sunshine City’ is a no-arguments barn-burner, a great tune with a crunking riff and swooping organ over Jones’ driving, swinging beat, and Bailey hollering away from the front as they make like a locomotive steaming down the track.
Those Americana awards are all very well, but for me Elles Bailey is really a crossover artist who puts the songs first, has bags of soul in her vocals, and with the help of her amigos is ready and willin’ to rock in pursuit a good time. And that’s a very tasty recipe for a live album.
Live At The Fire Station is out now and available here.

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