Artist: Emily Jane Powers
Stumbling upon the recorded output of Emily Jane Powers made my day. The expansive six LP collection, including one as Introductions (with Jasen Reeder, who's on other recordings as well), ranges from homespun sing-song recalling Liz Phair and Best Coast to the minimalist folk rock of a Cat Power. [Usually the Phairian hints are vocal in nature, but Apple Blossom's “Wayne County” recalls Liz's “Shatter” for their deep sonic backdrops.] There's also glimpses of Wall of Sound-era girl group (“Undertone”), as well as a vocal twang not often heard outside of country. But something in the calming vocal layers of Undertones' “Beatrice” brings to mind the gifted nature-folkie Laura Veirs.
The standout is Undertones' “Amelia and I.” As the two-minute ray of sunshine bounces merrily along [on second thought, a two-minute sunbeam could be more painful than pleasant], the speedy vocal phrasing ending in girlish squeals sounds right at home among the current crop of indie-but-really-pop darlings, Haim or Chairlift. Nearly as good on Undertones is “Give it Up,” with its angelic introductory harmonies (at :13); sophisticated, bass-driven pre-chorus (1:20); well-placed drum fills worthy of the accompanying pop vocals (1:37); and homey soft rock bridge built on descending guitar and bass (at 1:49). It's the little things like these that make all the difference between mere singer-songwriters and the pop pantheon [typified by the Beatles' “She Loves You”].
As for Saltwater, with gentle strumming, a charismatic vocal performance, and the crackling recording, bringing to mind front-porch picking in the summer haze, “Get Cool” gently beseeches a summer love to play hooky and cool off either by swimming in the lake or lying in bed (sans clothing, apparently). Another notable track on Saltwater is “What You Want,” which showcases a lyrical hook – “If it's what you want, it's what you want, it's what you want / Then I guess that's what you'll get” – with bells (1:02), strings (1:50), and fiddle (2:11), additional vocal tracks supplying dimension both on their own (2:37) and in backing (1:03 and 1:50).
Other fine particularities include the ascending harmonies (:38), warbling background vocals (1:01), and intriguing instrumentation (:42) of Artifacts' “Codes”; the harmony/tambourine mini-hooks (e.g. :26) of Artifacts' “All the Good You'd Ever Want”; and the atmospheric melodies and vocal blends (2:27) of Apple Blossom's “We've All Got Your Back.”
I suppose there are occasional mixing issues, where a vocal and/or instrumental track out-volumes the others (brief moments of Saltwater's “What You Want” and Apple Blossom's “What Makes You”). But given this is the worst that can be said of an astonishingly accomplished assortment by an artist previously unknown to me, over six LPs no less, that's quite the compliment. So Emily Jane Powers, please proceed. We're listening.
*** The author of this review, Ronald Clark, plays the bamboula for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8