Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ember Schrag

Among the backlog I am clearing are a fair few releases from Brian Day (Public Eyesore, Eh?, shelf life). Ember Schrag is a singer songwriter from Nebraska and the Day connection is that: he designed her first 'official album' A Cruel Cruel Woman (on Lone Prarie Records); she now has an EP on Eh?; he has curated some shows at her Clawfoot House in Lincoln; and he is on a tour with her (nice blog with lots of pics here).

In common with most of the stuff I get from him, this is unpredictable - in this case a beautiful, intense, enjoyable album of songs.

Ember (vocals, guitar, glockenspiel) is supported by Gunter Voelker throughout on lead guitar, bass, drums and background vocals, and there is piano and cello on a couple of other tracks.

The sound is what I will call a type of country - acoustic guitar driven with the voice given primacy. Upbeat, opener Cupid's Bloom is a catchy toetapper, followed by a slower Two Suns. As you listen the poetry and word play of the lyrics shines, and the guitar solos are unobtrusively skillful. The cello on Nobody Can Tell adds its warm tone to sweet sad song (I feel like there's an ocean between us/ You're like a homeland for me, I'm like a refugee).

More cello and melancholy on Dark Lion Lover includes some variation in the vocal work (sort of yodeling but not) and quiet effects at the end - an interesting twist. There is a biblical theme to the strong narrative of The Philistine, and here I first noticed the subtle background vocals which add depth to the chorus - nicely understated. And again in the aptly named Sad, Sad Song with cello and piano and a sweet vocal solo.

In this short album (29 minutes - but see previous post) full of highlights, my favourite track is Iowa. It has minimal, concrete and abstracted lyrics that have a powerful mystery (I could sing about addiction/ I could sing about destructive love/ or I could sing about a red-winged blackbird in Iowa), it is the longest track (4'38"), has a rocking instrumental workout, and reminded me of Neil Young. The Course of Love has a good swing to it before another highlight - the spiritual inflected Carry Me Away driven by strong instrumentation and a hypnotic repetition of the carry-me link (Carry me away on the long soft, river/ carry me far, carry me safe).

The album closes with the title track, and moves away from the listed instrumentation with a skiffleboard and fiddle to end on a fittingly joyous climax

My touchstones for this is people such as Sarah Blasco, Missy Higgins, Dido and Norah Jones even - women who sing personal songs in a distinct voice. Ember reminds me of them but also has her own sound and approach. The 10 songs pass too quickly but hook into the mind. I can hear no reason here why this album or a successor shouldn't be a 'hit' in the mainstream (if that's what they want) and I wish them the best of luck.

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