Although a lot has been made of Emily Wellsâ€™ classical violin training, it would be unfair to say too much about it. This is because, as her new album Mama shows, sheâ€™s a songwriter of uncommon maturity, and the transition from classical to independent songstress is really the development of a very talented musician, period.
Well is unhurried from the beginning on â€śPiece of It,â€ť allowing her songs to unfold, and even to come and go at will. Like the subsequent tracks, the opener is personal and mysterious, prone to self-lamentations, yearning desires, and weary barbs. The album intersects equally between hip-hop, soul (Wells has been compared to â€śa streetwise, feralâ€ť Nina Simone, as if Simone herself wasnâ€™t streetwise and feral â€“ maybe urban would be a more apt word), and mellower indie songwriting. On the latter front, an obvious reference point would be Andrew Bird, a fellow violinist and live loopmaster. But it works on more than one level â€“ Wells shares Birdâ€™s interest in sculpting an atmosphere thatâ€™s just as important as literally playing the song. And this what makes her unique and very interesting on this album.
In fact Wellsâ€™ songs and vocals especially come across sometimes as very abstract, as if she has distilled the essence of her songwriting into something beyond chord or melody. But the beauty is still there, as the gorgeous â€śPassenger.â€ť Wellsâ€™ vocals are impressionistic and often double-tracked, woven into her sound tapestries. But the haunting soul-waif quality of her voice shines on the arresting â€śLet Your Guard Down,â€ť yet another display of versatility and self-knowledge as a musician. Not sure if this will get the attention it deserves, but Wells is a force on this release.