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Emily Elbert | Proof

Album Review by John Powell

For those who have been following Emily Elbert.’s career from the beginning, you will note that she has been at the forefront of the do-it-yourself movement, from her personal mypsace message four years ago, “Have me come play your college,” to her jet-setting across the US and to foreign countries for performances.

Emily has played with some of today’s greatest pop songwriters, and she’s called her friends and family to aid her in management, publicity, and to be her musicians. She has, in her own way, developed a strange, wide-ranged family network all looking out for Emily because she really, honestly, in real life, is as sincere and laid back as her music.

It’s this humbleness mixed with her drive to succeed that has allowed her to soak in her experiences and let them evolve her songs.

2004’s Bright Side was testing the theory that Emily Elbert, the small, blonde-haired Texan could live in Boston, Massachusetts, could surprise the world with her powerful jazz voice, impressive vocal range, and mad acoustic guitar playing; but the album is, as Emily put it herself, “Not what I am anymore.”

Proof by Emily Elbert | Angelica-Music

2010’s Proof includes songs Emily has been playing live for years, meaning they were not spat out for the record, but rather part of her continuing songwriting practice. Comfortable with the songs now, the recording is so relaxed and uplifting that you might put the album between James Taylor and Jack Johnson. Yet overall the self-released Proof is a jazz record, and Emily’s voice and melody choices could have you placing this album between Norah Jones and Jewel.

Then again, songs like “Thinking Hybrid Redirected” are clearly from the perspective of a modern-day thinker, very current, as in the way she says, “You’ve got charisma and you’re so PC” on “Tightrope Walk”. She’s old school in a new school of thought.

Opening with “In the Summertime,” a crooning praise of sunshine and heat, and romance sparked therein, Emily sets the precedence, the poetry of her lyrics. “You’ll bring your charcoal pencils…I read Thoreau and kiss your blackened hand,” she lays on us so lightly that if we are too swept up in the vibe we’ll miss its eloquence and detail.

“Do Without” comes next, a heavier, faster blast of womanhood. “I am wise enough to keep my crying inside,” she delivers.

Just as suddenly, however, we’re given the title track, Emily’s cool voice backed by cello and mandolin, and it’s so jazzy you’ll need to rethink your whole perspective on the album.

From there on the songs leap from her three personas, the barefoot hippie, the young city dweller dealing with her own grown-upping, and the sap, all of which are adorable. Only Emily can get away with saying, “I was not a fool/For believing in you/…Just over my head,” as on “Not a Fool.”

As introspective as she can get, Emily also thinks globally. “We’ve got coal black smokestacks filling up our lungs,” she muses on “To Stay Alive in the World”. She adds, “Let’s not forget we’re still revolving around the sun.”

Musically, Proof is sparse, quiet, with surprises from hand percussion and piano. The album is mixed beautifully. I am ever grateful for albums where the vocals can be heard, in this age of gloomy folk rock where the lyrics are hidden under the resonance of guitar. So, thank you, engineer Stephen Webber. It sounds great the whole way through.

At times there are layered electric guitar, and the music is heavier, and you almost wish Emily would trade in her acoustic, just for a section, to crank out and rock. She’s more than capable of it. But that would jostle the listener too much from the slower paced melodies. Smartly, Emily holds back. She is inviting everyone into her fan club.

The only fault may be her slower love songs, of which there are three standout numbers that are very safe tracks. I like the rocking Emily more. I like the one that says, “Now I’ll learn to do without,” over the one that says, “This time last year I just loved you way too much.”

Still, you can’t blame a girl for feeling something and singing it with complete heart.

So what sets her apart from both her contemporaries and the stars we know that she embodies in spirit?

Well, listen in: that’s Emily playing guitar. She’s got an undeniably infectious style of playing. Like her voice, together, the two instruments can be heard smiling, scowling, laughing, or advising; expressive beyond compare. She writes them, plays them, and sings them.

Emily’s not bound by others’ standards, or by her own ambition. She’s bound to an ideology, and if you listen to Proof all the way through, your mood will change. You will slow down and enjoy the simple parts of your day. You will get the feeling that everything’s not only going to be okay, but that it’s been good this whole time. For the lover in all of us.

Purchase Proof here

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