Of the twelve tracks featured on Emily Duff’s album “Maybe in the Morning,” I was impressed by nine. That’s how captivating and diversified this collection is. Sometimes CD’s come that have better art on its packaging than music but this time around the design is rather plain and mundane yet it captures the atmosphere and spirit that is this album’s finest qualities.
What I enjoyed about this effort, as I do take note at times of the song pacing: this album is well sequenced. This little detail can be just as important as the tracks themselves. Maybe Ms. Duff just got lucky, or she actually spent time assessing what she had and how to logically, sensibly assemble it all. So, with the strangely titled “Hypmotizing Chickenz” – usually this kind of title is skipped over unless it’s a Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart album, I chose not to ignore it since Emily decided to open her album with it.
There must be some rhyme or reason and there was. Let’s see what this girl has up her sleeve.
What she had up her sleeve was an ass-kicking opener. Highly energetic, spirited vocals. Goes from gritty to lovely in a snap. The strangeness is part of its charm. It has a Dirk Hamilton quality to it. Hamilton is also famous for his quirky titled songs (“She Don’t Squash Bugs”), that are often gems and ingenious. And so we have Ms. Duff: “making love at midnight out on the front lawn…” What?
I like this woman’s sand as she hooks your ears and sings about nobody…nobody’s home.
She has that down-home quality and power that is Bonnie Raitt, she has that punch that is Melissa Ethridge and she has a definite connection to both blues rocker veteran Genya Ravan and Lucinda Williams.
And what makes Emily Duff in 2017 even more special is her original approach and indelible creative Americana-cum-rock. Her vocal accent is what made Elvis Presley’s voice so appealing worldwide. Let’s see if lightning strikes twice. “Please Don’t Do Me Dirty,” is more countrified rock. Her backing musicians and singers are solid granite. The lyrics are bluesy but the melody is firmly anchored in a more country soil. Emily accentuates certain lyrics with her vocal adeptly. This is a pro. She is polished but she understands the value of having that loose back porch scrape the varnish off the wood dynamic. This is not Pine Sol – Lysol and Pledge polished Taylor Swift.
I like the drive Emily infuses her music with. The whiskey in the milk and rusty pick-up truck with the headless doll on its fender pictures that are conjured in my mind as Emily unravels her wonderful little stories.
Track three opens with a Hammond Organ and rousing deep beat. This is a well-arranged rock-march oriented masterpiece. “Maybe in the Morning” is deserving of the title track position. One line description: hot as tar on an August day.
Some say rock is dead. It’s not dead…it just moved to the country. And this is where Emily Duff resides. Foot stomping blood curdling open heart surgery rock. Mixed a little under the drive is the snarl of a lead guitar. But at one point it does surface with an asserting lead and it steams like a city manhole.
Track four opens and so far nothing is even remotely bad. “Bomp Bomp,” is upbeat and jaunty. Duff is, if nothing else, quite a confident singer. She has fun with her tunes and she conveys that feeling to her listeners. With a title like this it’s obvious that Duff has been inspired by many retro songs that had similar nonsensical titles that translated into sweeping memorable rock melodies. The guitars chime, the lead guitar once again spits out some delicious notes. The song works – because it’s short and to the point. It’s all like classic AM rock of the 60’s. Radio-ready. No need to think about it. Just get on the dance floor and let your feet smile.
Finally, “Don’t” — a nice slow song in a real retro 60’s style dips into Brenda Lee territory – like her classic “Emotions.” As well — Robin Ward’s “Wonderful Summer.”
Emily, even if she never heard of Lee or Ward, has turned her voice transitioned into an emotional, beautifully sincere and sentimental gear similar to these ladies. Her backing singers are marvelous.
“Listen to Mama,” cooks like a good country-rocker should and despite its basic down-home title doesn’t have any corn-pone or novelty touch thankfully. This song has lap steel guitar and urges hand clapping as Emily ambles through every lyric confidently. This is one tight band too. Next time, she needs to include lyrics because I know I am missing lots of good lines.
A more traditional tune —“Alabama,” and Emily adds some new instrumental color: a piano, a little accordion (I think) and spirited guitars frame the jubilant melody. Emily is an expressive vocalist and has a substance that just makes ears happy to be part of listening. The more soulful “Diamonds,” is a surprise. Slower and Emily shows a well-spring of diversification in her music. Nice deep Hammond organ and a back-up singer with spiritual leanings solidifies this tune with a durable duet performance. The sign of a seasoned performer when they tackle an entirely different genre and still infuse it with a quality to this degree.
“…flies in the buttermilk…” – how can you not like a lyric like that?
“Needledrop Blues,” comes on with a more upbeat approach to the speed of a record on a turntable. Who even thinks about that today? This brought a smile to my face because I don’t think any of the earlier singers ever tackled the actual speed of a record in a song – 78 rpm, 33 rpm or 45 rpm (revolutions per minute). With the addition of a barrelhouse type piano, the song has musical ammunition. Guitars wind around the song like a flock of birds, like vines around a tree. It’s absorbing and though it could sink into novelty it never does it stays in a spiritual-gospel vein.
Emily Duff has a crackerjack band that’s totally enjoyable. She closes with a slower, more pensive acoustic tune supported by pedal steel, clean playing, soulful handclaps and backup singers – “Somebody on Sunday.” A nice send off.
Produced by Mark Baker, Craig Bishop, and Emily Duff. Recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There were many backup musicians but none were individually identified on the jacket as to what they played. All were excellent. The cover painting was by Chalet Comelas-Baker and the photography on the LP by Charles Chessler, with the style by Cheryl Esposito.
Music Samples: https://emilyduff.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-in-the-morning
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / September 2017