Whenever I find myself thinking that experimentation in music is dead, an artist usually comes along after a time to prove otherwise. In this latest case the artist is Brooklyn based solo artist known as Ellayo. Ellayo has previously worked for the Brooklyn institution National Sawdust and served as director for their record label. She produced programs by artists as well known and various as Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, to artists like Kelsey Lu, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Kimbra.
Now Ellayo has released her first work as an independent artist, the five-song EP For Miriam. The five songs were recorded on site in various places such as a church in Connecticut, a barn in Pennsylvania and a cabin in Ojai, California. These spaces lend to the elegance and wide openness of Ellayo’s compositions which take their inspiration from classical and hymns to Gregorian style chants and even a small bit of electronica, all of which make the album a voyage of musical experiences.
The opening track “I Was, I Was” features Rob Moose who has worked with artists like Bon Iver among others. Here he arranges wildly protean strings over which Ellayo sings with powerful operatic vocals which give cadence to the strings and piano that slowly draw the listener into the realm of ambient richness. It is this richness that is so hard to find in so many songs these days, and behind it there is the idea that this wasn’t just done on the spot, but grown and tended by the collaboration of great musicians working together.
On the next track “Mimic” pits a slow and savvy jazz like composition, the one of old smokey clubs long since gone, with a hint of classical popping up every now and then. Over this again Ellayo’s rich and deep vocals show her power and her restraint as she takes each note to the fullest and pulls back without ever trying to be too showy. She follows this up with the dark and sinister sounding “Morel” which reminded me of the great Tori Amos. The production here, as it is on the previous tracks is simply superb, not a note or a sound too much or too little. This can all be said too of the next track “My Saints” which roils and rolls with a feeling that it could be taken from a classic Broadway musical, so elegant and timely as it is.
The final track “Mary Mary (Part One)” is the most stripped down of the EP’s five tracks, and gives Ellayo a chance to once again display her vocal richness and intones her love for the hymn and the pure power of what a vocalist can do with just the gifts she’s been given. It’s a powerful capstone to very powerful record from a new voice which I hope to hear a lot more from in the future.
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