Ten years between your debut album and your second is a pretty long time, even if the gap was punctuated by a couple of EPs (but even then, only six songs in total) and I can find no explanation for the lengthy delay. No matter, while not having heard that first release myself, I’m sure patient fans will be pleased Michelle Lewis is back. I certainly am.
With a soft, sweet and fragile soprano that’s part Dolly Parton and part young Nanci Griffith she trades in melodic folksy pop with songs anchored in themes of love and relationships, delivered with a touch as light as the arrangements. Three of them are taken from the EPs: Paris, a resigned accordion-backed heartbreaker about realising that, even when love still burns, Paris and a dozen pink roses can’t mend a broken relationship and a broken trust; the similarly shattered slow waltzing Broken; and Something That Simple which, with its cello, accordion and mandolin, floats along like a balloon skimming the rooftops.
The rest of the songs featured on The Parts Of Us That Still Remain is all new material, two of which she co-wrote with the redoubtable Robby Hecht, the upbeat and consummately lovely Running Back Home with its tumbling harmony chorus refrain and the equally heart-ease, country shaded None Of That Now with its gently rolling rhythm and accordion solo.
Returning to the downside of love, Goodbye is another co-write, this time with Conan Skyrme, whose day job as a sound designer and documentary film composer which doubtless accounts for the more complex, jazzier rhythms with the skittering drums and delicate weave of cello and lap steel.
It’s not the only cinematic connection, Just Like A Movie, a waltzing song about the first flush of passion that, with clarinet and cello as dance partners, talks about her lover turning the silver screen to gold as she references It’s A Wonderful Life, Bogart, Burton and Some Like It Hot.
However, while not to begrudge her the sunnier moments, it’s when she sings of the heart’s darker passages that she’s at her best, particularly so with the album’s bookends, Sorry I Forgot To Write, Dolly Parton and Janis Ian colliding as, apologising to an old boyfriend, she sings “It’s just that I fell in love with someone else I put above everything else in my life”, and the lilting two minute string quartet accompanied closer Lost In LA (which drops in more film references with Popeye and Paramount) as she begs her lover not to leave her alone as he flies off “to Reno or Tahoe or Sparks”.
A feathery air may inform the album’s ambience, but behind it lie deceptively and disarmingly moving literate songs that catch you unawares with the acumen of their images and emotions. I hope she doesn’t leave it another ten years before she pulls on the heartstrings again.
Review by: Mike Davies
Self Released on December 1st 2014