Artist Spotlight

Review: Shelby Earl, “Swift Arrows”

No Comments 8 August 2013

Review: Shelby Earl, “Swift Arrows”

“Both her songwriting and performance are timeless, and there’s a distinct ‘crooner’ quality at work here. With Swift Arrows, Shelby Earl continues to explore the vast and seemingly unending resurrection of herself both as an artist and woman.”

Artist: Shelby Earl

Album: Swift Arrows

Genre: Americana / Dark Folk

RIYL: Rachael Yamagata, Tracyanne Campbell, Jenny Lewis, Patsy Cline

Shelby Earl Swift Arrows

What do you get when you cross Damien Jurado, a BIG room, two finely tuned microphones and one seriously talented female who’s moved beyond burning boats? You get Swift Arrows, a poignant and roiling act of honesty from Seattle singer-songwriter Shelby Earl. Helmed by producer Jurado, the album was laid down in a short eight days using a throwback method of recording in the hope of pulling out a very candid performance: “Half the songs were recorded with just vocals and acoustic guitars (piano, drums, and other overdubs added later), and the other half were tracked with the full band playing live together in the room.”

This experiment of sorts brought out a raw and vulnerable performance from Earl, filled with ferocity, flaws and a dazzling energy that brings each song to life. The album opens with the pointed and direct “Swift Arrows,” which sounds so lilting and lovely while belying the tone with lyrics like “You’ll find one poison-tipped swift arrow in your mind / And they’ll find one poison-tipped swift arrow in their eye.” This is a common and highly-effective trick for Earl, whose lyrical content often contradicts an upbeat and sometimes even cheery melody.  “The Artist” is both undeniably catchy locked in a 1950s-style groove and darkly humorous lyrics: “I’ll make the bed while you are off to shoot the moon. I love you, you love you, too.”

As much of a treat can be found in this type of dynamic opposition of tone and content, Earl stretches even further beyond this juxtaposition of humor as coping mechanism into even richer, more complex territory. “If It Isn’t You” is a standout track, slinking in and out of dark corners, employing a haunting cello and equally stunning vocals.  “We Will Die” is another gem, a could-be anthem for anyone moving forward and looking to assert their place in the world. “The Seer” is a gorgeous torch of a song, building up with a slow and satisfying burn. “Sea of Glass,” “Blue Girl,” and the western-tinged “Grown Up Things” also provide highlights on an album that exhibits both versatility and cohesion in expressing themes of regret, romanticism and restoration.

The warm, amber tones of Earl’s voice harness a lush and lilting quality that make you want to keep listening over and over; it’s such a heartbreakingly beautiful sound, and feels both gentle and expansive all at once. Earl’s strength, however, lies in wrapping that warmth around lyrics that speak of experience and exhibit a hopeful sorrow. Both her songwriting and performance are timeless, and there’s a distinct “crooner” quality at work here. With Swift Arrows, Shelby Earl continues to explore the vast and seemingly unending resurrection of herself both as an artist and woman. Never is this promise more succinctly phrased than in “This Is Me Now” when Earl sings “if ever there was a revolutionized heart, it’s mine.”

 


Shelby Earl website: http://www.shelbyearl.com

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