May Erlewine: Mother Lion
Self Released – 1 November 2017
One-third of The Sweet Water Warblers, Mother Lion is the latest offering from Michigan-born May Erlewine, a further nugget in a goldmine of soulful folksy Americana variously seamed with vulnerability, sadness and hope and coloured with strings and French horn arrangements.
Producer Tyler Duncan’s spare piano notes and Katie Van Dusen’s violin herald the glorious opening track, Wild, a call to open the heart and spirit to the power of nature and breaking free of the chains of civilisation.
Set to a lively melody and catchy chorus, driven by brushed drums, softly sung with echoes of Natalie Merchant, Hurricane seems to be about running from a past that always threatens to catch up and tear things apart. Built around a percussive rhythm with Woody Goss on piano, the reflective Fine Line conjures thoughts of 70s Laurel Canyon, brief piano interlude Too Wide providing the bridge to arguably the album’s backbone track, the midtempo shuffling clap and stomp folk gospel Never One Thing. Backed by massed background vocals, she sings about universality and not being defined.
I am hope, I am defeat
I am broken, I am complete
I am the grace, I am the fall
Never one thing no, not one thing at all
Featuring Tyler Duncan on oboe and Goss on piano, Shake The World has a languid and relaxed feel with hints of smoky jazz while the lyrically bittersweet Paint The Town again recalls the early, heady days of 10,000 Maniacs as, indeed, does Beautiful, another number underpinned by Theo Katzman’s simpatico drums and swathed in strings.
The achingly lovely Mountain Top, a poignant number about unrequited love, strips it back to acoustic guitar with just a hint of keyboards and Erlewine accompanied by hummed backing vocals. A second instrumental bridge, Before The Storm, heralds the final three numbers, first up being What Do You Want a meditative nocturnal piano ballad about a lover’s need for answers in a fragile relationship. Framed under Migration in the accompanying booklet with a poem about “invisible pathways through the ages”, Get It Back has Erlewine behind the piano, the swelling sound riding wind chimes and Rhodes for a number about time being precious and living every moment. A touch of Janis Ian perhaps?
It ends with its longest track, the slow, soulful and almost hymnal five-minute Grateful with a muted choral background, the title effectively encapsulating the lyrical message about the things life sends us that make us stronger and who we are.
May Erlewine made a number of festival appearances with The Sweet Water Ramblers earlier this year and she’s also looking to tour the UK in 2018 with her own band which will no doubt serve to widen her fan base here. You really should set up an alert for those dates now.