[Wrong Size Shoes (2010)]
Multi-instrumentalist ellen cherry has become known as a songwriter for her skill in using history, both musical and the kind you find in dusty old library books. (New) Years is the purest expression of her mining of historic events, and it’s a stronger album than its immediate predecessor, Heart Like a Lion. Six of the tracks originally appeared on 2005’s Years EP.
Here, she narrates stories of twelve women from twelve years, from the civil war through the year of the album’s release, and hits many of the requisite genres on the way. There are several outstanding examples of everyday acoustic singer-songwriter fare, like “1983 A Secret”:
I tell a secret to my hand
So that I can understand
When it hears the words I say
Answers back don’t despair and don’t delay
Don’t despair and don’t delay
and the opener, “1864 Civil War Bride.”
But not everything is as straightforward as it first seems. “1893 Girl at the World’s Fair” has a tuba and sounds like it’s going to be a vaudville waltz, but it’s in 5/4 between verses, creating just enough tension to keep listeners on their toes. “1912 Violet Swims but the Ship Sinks” (its year a reference of course to the year the titanic sank) is entirely vocals (with guests the Ernie Fowler Trio).*
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, we go to California for the dust bowl (1933); explore suburban domestic frustration (1950); and, come the 21st Century, acknowledge that the Artist Currently Known as Prince exists (“2002 All U Ever Said Was No,” which I should specify is in no way reminiscent of an actual Prince song). The year is not always a clue to what type of music you’re going to hear, and it’s not always easy to figure out why any particular year was chosen for the song. (1998, 1983, and 2002 in particular, could have been assigned years arbitrarily.) The record ends with a trio of jazzier numbers—“2003 I Hope to Dream of You Tonight,” “2005 My Favorite Blue Dress,” and “2010 Jazz Song #9”—that are particularly strong and show off ellen cherry’s prowess on the guitar.
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
[Edit: The guitarist on the CD is Mike Prout, not Andrew Grimm as originally stated. Andrew Grimm played on the Years EP. Jon still maintains that he is not stalking Grimm.]