Mother of Gloom
Emily Fairlight’s new album, her second is a giant leap up from the earnest self-titled debut. To clarify, that’s (still) a nice record; not only well-meaning but with some good songs and great vocal performances, but Mother of Gloom is on a whole other level. Here is a singer/songwriter fully formed, here are songs that breathe and thrive due to the arrangements and the tender playing. Here’s a complete record – not a hair out of place, not a spot on its face, but no unctuous smile.
The sound, broadly, to my ears, is comparable to if Natalie Merchant made a record with Calexico. We could dream of such a collaboration. But here we have something that comes close to how I imagine that might sound. More importantly, though, it ushers in the full arrival of a brand new talent, a writer and vocalist who has been working, honing, crafting. And here’s the proof.
We open with the Dylan-esque shimmer of Body Below, it’s as if the parts that Emmylou Harris and Scarlet Rivera played on Desire morphed into one channeled sound and made their own album.
Drag The Night In is a waltz-in-straight-time, urban country, a wee picnic-table ode that offers the first hint of Natalie Merchant as an obvious antecedent, the sweet-spot between folkish and folksy.
The Escape lurches in on a hypnotic brushed-drum rhythm – “You came by here/Hoping to escape” Fairlight sings. Just who or what is being tormented here, the subject or the singer, the singer or the song? There’s a profound sense of heartbreak and stoicism here and in other places across the aptly titled album.
Water Water is a pagan spiritual – a sly acoustic guitar line is the hook here, and the voice hangs across it, draped just so. When we get to the chanted chorus – eventually – we’ve been anticipating it from near the song’s intro. This is quality writing, arranging, playing.
There are wry rasps of songs – little husks – like The Desert. And then there are the windswept and interesting Americana versions of torch-balladry, such as Loneliest Race.
In between we get acoustic folk-blues seemingly beamed in from another world entirely – Time’s Unfaithful Wife – and wistful yearning in songs that churn inside their own pathos, like Sinking Ship, a sea shanty for landlubbers.
The horns, accordion and press-roll on the snare that usher in The Bed is pure Calexico.
The way Nurture The Wild drifts into place all at once aimless and precise brings with it a reminder of Neil Young’s Stray Gators, or the sound Cat Power has summoned when she’s played to the strengths of how the southern country-soul sound can suit her.
Mother of Gloom though, is its own world. It’s an album that was released just a few weeks ago – but it could have existed 15 or 45 years ago. It’ll live on strong for many, many years to come. It’s a wonderful set of songs that’s painted in forlorn brush strokes, yet there’s a brightness and warmth in the playing, in the spaces within the songs. It never outstays its welcome. It begs to be played again and again. And again.
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