It’s only May and it may be a little too early to call it, but Never Just a Dream is one of the most exciting albums of the year so far, and Emma-Lee, the twenty-five year old singer behind its creation has the most beautiful voice I have heard in recent memory.
Considering the plethora of rootsy folk singing young women who seem to have been popping out of the woodwork lately, that’s quite a statement. Perhaps the public is growing tired of the Britney Spears and Madonnas of the world who continue to equate marketing their sexuality as being synonymous with liberation. For years it seemed as if the hard fought battles waged by women like Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and Sinead O’Connor to be taken seriously as artists were all for naught as singers like Mariah Carey dominated the airwaves with their middle of the road pap. For every Norah Jones who has come around to challenge the status quo, there have been dozens of other singers like Miley Cyrus and Faith Hill who seem to exist only to further obscure the potential for serious music created by women.
Thankfully, there has been a recent backlash and the indie scene is currently awash with great new music being created by younger female artists like Neko Case, Jolie Holland and Po’Girl. While they’ve hardly redefined the boundaries of music, these artists have helped create the kind of fertile ground necessary for new and daring voices to emerge from. Whatever the alchemy of events that allowed for the creation of Never Just a Dream, Emma-Lee’s debut release, it should take listeners only one spin of this ten song cycle to release that she is no flash in the pan, or here today and gone tomorrow dabbler.
Blessed with a voice that sounds powerful and fragile at the same time, Emma-Lee displays a subtlety and nuance in her phrasing that one usually associates with an older and more experienced singer. On every occasion Emma-Lee’s voice and intuitive understanding of musical dynamics rise to the challenge of the sophisticated arrangements she sings over. Swinging between jazz, blues, country and folk she displays a mastery of each idiom that is truly breath-taking. Sometimes as on “That Sinking Feeling” she seems to be channeling Dusty Springfield at her best, while at other times she shows off a jazzy scat that rivals Joni Mitchell at her most unfettered. On “Isn’t it Obvious” – one of the disc’s most interesting cuts – she exploits a range and ability to dive around the notes that would make kd lang jealous – while opting for a quirky phrasing that is reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones’ recent experimental jazz material.
In the end, all of these comparisons fail to describe the experience of listening to Never Just a Dream. Like Tracy Chapman’s 1988 debut, it is an album so full of ideas and potential that it is hard to know how to properly frame a description of its contents. It is a collection of songs that is far more than the sum of its influences. Emma-Lee is just starting out on her career, yet one can hear that she is clearly charting an exciting musical course that is all her own. Never Just a Dream is an epic debut that sounds better with every listen. Emma-Lee may be the voice to remember from 2009. Highly recommended.
This article originally appeared at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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