Emily Wells | Mama
Most likely to: pin down a dream, rough it up, take a snapshot, and move on.
Emily Wells is one-woman band for the next millennium. Rather than strapping on a bass drum, clanging cymbals, and wearing her harmonica, Wells melds violin, oddball toy instruments, and myriad beats with her smoky voice to create music which breaks free of most musical and creative preconceptions.
On Mama, Wells’ most recent full-length, Wells pulls more overt folk influences into her musical fold than she did on The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties (2008). To record Mama, Wells left behind the L.A. garage studio where she recorded Symphonies, in favor of a rented cabin in Topanga Canyon.
Whether from the change in venue or simply a change in heart, Mama sounds earthier and less overtly urban than Symphonies. With its hypnotic chorus (“I just want to feel better / I just want to feel right”), “Dirty Sneakers and Underwear” lets a diffuse cloud of prairie dust triumph over the less visible grit of the city.
Mama’s first single “Passenger” offers Wells’ prototypical beats, but she’s scaled back the tempo from allegro to largo. The songs strings create a languid scaffolding that supports the rest of the sounds. Wells slows down enough on “Passenger” to let the listener hop in beside her. When she sings, “I will be waiting for you” it feels like she could be waiting for you, even if you are smart enough to know better.
“Fire Song” plays out like a Steinbeck novel set to strings. In a song as big as any canyon landscape, Wells communicates loss, as well as the desire to move beyond her past as she sings, “They’ll just say you lost it in the flame / putting out the old desire so you don’t have to give it names.”
Wells often blends hip-hop, classical, and folk influences. On Mama, the hip-hop surfaces only on “Mama’s Gonna Give You Love,” a lullaby-cum-rap that infuses shades of “Hush Little Baby” with a down tempo loop: “Tuck you in just one last time / Tell you little baby, it’ll be all right.”
While there is no one song as gripping as Wells cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” (from her 2009 EP Dirty), Mama will satiate Wells’ longtime fans. She’s likely to gain new admirers, too, since devotees of Thao Nguyen, Andrew Bird, Polly Jean Harvey, and even Billie Holiday will all warm to Wells.
Watch Wells’ self-directed vid for single “Passenger” below: