Emily Wells – Mama

January 01, 1970





Emily Wells sings in a cracked country-blues soprano, with
the natural swing rhythm of an old jazz hand, the flexibly-pitched emotional
heft of a Karen Dalton or Nina Simone. She plays violin, too, quite well, and
in a variety of ways,  like the
classically trained, Suzuki-schooled musician she is. And she builds beats and
synthetic arrangements that pop and slink and shuffle, sounding very much like
the kind of person who might collaborate with, say, Dan the Automator. (She has
done this, too.)   She is good at all
these things and, even more important, manages to bring them together in a
coherent, wholly original way, so that you hardly see the edges. You also don’t
worry much, while you’re listening, about whether this hybrid makes sense.


That’s all right, because for the most part it does make
sense, whether in the stutter-stepped, hitch-stepped R&B beat that
underlies utterly natural, unprocessed “No Good” (showstopper line: “I’m no
go-oo-ood at being ali-ii-ii-iive.”)  or
the in the post-modern classical intro and swooning movie strings that frame
anti-folk-ish “Passenger.” Wells slips woozy altered vocals and skittery
syncopation under the talking blues of “Dirty Sneakers and Underwear,” turning
something raw and Appalachian into a sleekly modern enterprise. Throughout this
very odd but engaging album, she manages to slip and slide over the exposed
guts of the blues without contradicting her clean, punctual, precise
arrangements. She’s all kinds of musicians – folk, blues, hip hop and pop – working
against all kinds of backdrops, and she makes it work, seamlessly, witchily and
without even acknowledging the difficulty.


Good”, “Passenger” JENNIFER KELLY



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