Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Fans of quality Americana/Country-Blues are in for a real treat with the release of the new Elles Bailey album, Shining In The Half-Light.
Recorded during the pandemic and while Elles was pregnant – according to the accompanying biog, the tracking was only completed very shortly before she gave birth – this is a positive and uplifting collection of roots music with soulful Blues at its core throughout.
Gospel influences creep into several of the tracks via some quite stunning backing vocals and there are hints of modern Country and Rock within the tracks.
‘Cheats and Liars’ opens the album with a deliciously swampy slice of Country-Blues. If forced to make comparisons, I’d say that this sounds not unlike the best of the bluesy tracks that Country mega-stars Little Big Town scatter throughout their repertoire, which coming from me is praise indeed! Driven by impassioned vocals and twanging bottle-neck slide guitar, this is a delightful slow-burn of an opener with a really menacing undertone beneath the infectious vocal refrains.
‘The Game’ is much more uptempo and has a soft Blues-Rock feel to it, propelled by a delightful guitar riff and sparkling Hammond organ.
The track has a very familiar structure and melody, but Elle’s Bailey’s warm honey vocals elevate it far above the ordinary. This will be a cracker on the live stage!
‘Stones’ drops the tempo again and reintroduces the swampy guitars – you can imagine an old boy on a front porch rocking chair in rural Georgia playing this riff on a battered old dobro, but here it’s got a beautifully dark electric tone.
This track also piles on towering layers of gospel-influenced harmony vocals which build and build as the track grinds towards its magnificent conclusion.
There is another brief but mighty bottleneck guitar solo on this track – special mention must actually be made of guitarist Joe Wilkins as his contributions to this album are absolutely stunning. The man has that authentic blues touch in absolute spades and he totally owns everything he touches throughout the album.
‘Colours Start To Run’ is a beautiful love song. Once again, the backing vocals play a huge part in the overall feel of the track, but it is the production and arrangement that stand out here.
There is a ton of space in the production which allows the beautifully emotive lyric to breathe against a delightfully restrained and soulful musical backdrop.
‘Different Kind of Love’ keeps up the love song theme but with a very different feel. This track opens with just vocal and a very sparse guitar part and the arrangement of the whole track is very restrained and low-key. Bailey’s vocals are mesmerising on this track, just dripping with soul and passion throughout.
‘Who’s That?’ brings latter-day Little Big Town to mind again on a stunning slow and soulful modern Country-tinged masterpiece.
Special mention must be made of the production, handled on this track by Dan Weller, Steve Blackmon and Brad Nowell: reminiscent of the best work of Nashville producer Jay Joyce (Little Big Town, Eric Church, Ashley McBryde), it is absolutely perfect, particularly in the arrangement of the gospel backing vocals and the percussive, staccato guitars that provide such clever emphases throughout the track’s duration.
The lively ‘Sunshine City’ lifts the tempo with a blistering slice of bluesy, gritty soft Rock before the tempo drops again with the delicate acoustic number ‘Halfway House’; a delightful modern Country-tinged ballad with more of those achingly soulful vocals and a chorus hook to die for.
‘Riding Out The Storm’ sees a return to the soulful Blues stylings we’ve seen throughout the album with another huge chorus and wonderful bottleneck slide guitars before the wonderful title track, ‘Shining In The Half-Light’ closes the album on a massive high. Atmospheric, emotive and highly charged, this is the perfect way to end an excellent album.
In Shining In The Half Light, Elles Bailey has created an album worthy of her title as UK Blues Artist of The Year in 2021 and it is an album that, if there is any justice in the world, should feature prominently in the critics’ choice of top British Blues albums of 2022.
Emotive and atmospheric one moment, fiery and lively the next and incredibly soulful throughout, it is an absolute masterpiece and cannot be recommended highly enough.
Tour Dates – www.ellesbailey.com
Pre-Order – https://linktr.ee/ellesbailey