Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Erica Sunshine Lee - Elixir

Erica Sunshine Lee - Elixir  

The southern flavor of this collection is impossible to ignore. It would be even if Lee didn’t make a big deal about her regional roots. However, none of the regional flavor heard in Erica Sunshine Lee’s music prevents listeners from different areas getting into her music. The subject matter of her songwriting has universal appeal and even her most personal concerns have an overarching common theme of humanity that any feeling person will respond to. Her seventh studio release Elixir runs a little long with fifteen cuts, but she retains immense likability even when she’s repeating herself a little. It’s purely speculation, but it’s a valid interpretation to hear this abundance of music as a self-conscious attempt to knock one out of the park artistically and make an emphatic statement of her creative vitality. It certainly highlights her productivity and impressive consistency, but some will conclude that you are most likely to create a masterpiece when you are relaxed rather than flexing too much muscle to force the issue.  

You will be hard pressed, however, to hear any outright holes in this album. It starts off with a blast. “Shut Up Heart”, naturally, deals with some weighty issues of the heart but the lyric and vocal delivery alike play up the darkly comic aspects of the song much more than its painful elements. “The Bottle Ain’t Enough” is the first of a handful of bluesy stompers that Lee includes on the album. She handles these sorts of songs with such wide-eyed, uninhibited glee that she carries listeners along for the ride with minimal effort. These chest-beating rock influenced numbers, however, seem to convey less of her inner life than songs like “My Favorite Word”. There are a number of instances on Elixir where the posturing of songs like “The Bottle Ain’t Enough” falls away and listeners come face to face, ear to ear, with the unvarnished Erica Sunshine Lee. Beautiful, almost classically themed, piano playing is the musical highlight of “My Favorite Word”, but her stunning singing matches it every step of the way. 

There’s piano in “Jesus and Georgia”, but it is much more understated. Acoustic guitar provides much of the song’s musical body and tasteful, brushed percussion stylishly accentuates everything. There isn’t one dominant musical element; instead, the approach here is much more orchestral with Lee’s singing having a crowning effect on the piece. “Medicine” is a slow burn country ballad that rejects a minimalist approach in favor of a slightly weepy mid-tempo jaunt. There’s piano lines diving in and out of the mix and precise, but never too thought out, drumming that sets a definite tone. “Drunker” is quite a playful tune this late in the album and its backing vocals, along with the jaunty tempo, give it different feel than any other song on Elixir. “Take the High Road”, the album’s closer, is a sharp contrast. The straight-ahead country beat, combination of acoustic and understated electric guitars, plus the climatic chorus are never heavy-footed at all, but quietly assertive and affirming the bedrock musical values informing Lee’s tradition and her own take on songwriting. It brings Elixir to a solid finish that will leave many listeners satisfied. 

8 out of 10 stars

Michael Saulman

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