The last time we encountered Emily Jane White she was yearning for a Victorian America through some truly elegant and beautiful music that saw her developing a lush, pastoral side courtesy of some string-enhanced compositions and her own amazing voice – a thing of wonder that provides the thrust once again here on follow-up album ‘Ode to sentience’. A story-teller in the greatest folk traditions, Emily Jane White creates magical music that can lift the spirits and rip the very heart out of you as her whim dictates and her ability to capture a mood just with a slight turn of phrase or change in tone is remarkable.
Opening with the wondrous ‘Katherine’, a mere four minutes flies by as a second while strings and carefully worked guitar add texture to the sound while Emily proves her voice is as sultry, tuneful and emotive as ever. ‘The cliff’ adds a new dimension to her song-writing canon with its gently countrified guitars and lazy swing. It’s country in the loosest sense of course, beautifully played by Emily’s inordinately talented backing band (most of whom have returned from the previous album sessions to lend a hand) who uniformly provide the perfect backdrop for Emily’s lovely voice. ‘Black silk’ is the first track directly comparable to ‘Victorian America’ with its guitar flourishes, classical styling and dramatic vocals all building an atmosphere which is entirely unique to Emily who has the ability to make even simple intonations sound meaningful. ‘The black oak’ follows a similar formulae, with its simple acoustic guitar providing a skeletal backdrop for Emily’s voice before elements of piano and strings join the mix to expand the sonic palette greatly and offer the singer even greater possibilities which she takes maximum advantage of. It’s haunting, engaging and almost hypnotic in the way that you are slowly drawn into the centre of the web with ever greater instrumentation proving to be the bait which you cannot ignore.
Changing pace, and style, ‘lay to rest (California)’ is a piano led bass with a huge bass drum sound thumping through the mix at regular intervals while cello and violin add a rich depth to the song that feels both deeply personal and yet written so cleverly as to include the listener in the emotions express rather than exclude, leaving you on the outside looking in. It is a trick that Emily regularly employs allowing the listener to feel as if the music belongs as much to them as it does to her. As the song speeds up and reaches its climax it’s clear that Emily and her band have a clear grasp of how to craft a song so that it has maximum impact and it is a genuine pleasure to allow oneself to get lost for the forty-odd minute runtime within the melodies and moods of the record. ‘Clipped wings’ has a very folky feel, set against the pastoral gloom of Michael Gira’s Angels of Light project which the vocal phrasing sometimes recalls and it is this wilful mixing of styles that Emily and her band manage so well that keeps every track on the record fresh and invigorating. Continuing in the slightly darker vein of the previous track, ‘the preacher’ is a downbeat track that seems closer to the bone than anything else this wonderful song-writer has produced with its atmosphere of personal release and catharsis. ‘The law’ treads a fine line between care-worn and defiant and when the piano comes in it acts a release for the tension built up by the picked guitar and Emily’s echoing voice that seems almost naked without the lush orchestral soundscapes of the earlier stages of the disc. ‘Requiem waltz’ is indeed a Waltz-esque tune in a folk style with intelligent lyrics and lively violin piercing the booming drums and gentle piano. The final track, ‘broken words’ returns to the country feel of ‘The cliff’ bringing the album full circle and rounding off another excellent release from this thought-provoking songstress.
When I first heard ‘Victorian America’ it was a revelation. A gentle, ballad-filled record that held a folky charm and the centrepiece of which was the stunning voice of Emily Jane White herself, ‘Victorian America’ was a resounding triumph. Here, Emily builds upon the compositional skills she developed upon the last record to make an even more intricate, heartbreaking set that will appeal instantly to fans of heart-felt, beautifully written, played and recorded music and intelligent lyrics. The show once again must belong to Emily’s glorious voice, but her band are quite exceptional too, providing understated support to their leader and demonstrating talent without resorting to showboating. A lovely record that will no doubt continue to reveal its charms long after Emily has released the follow up.