Annie Ellicott – Lonesome Goldmine

Annie Ellicott - Lonesome Goldmine

Annie Ellicott – Lonesome Goldmine

For the last five years Tulsa’s own Mark Kuykendall, musician, producer and filmmaker, has overseen a stream of consistently high quality and highly varied ambient/electronica releases on the delightfully below the radar Unknown Tone Records. The Oklahoma polymath’s recent meeting with adept jazz singer, Annie Ellicott, has led to something of a perspective shift in the UT world, the first fruits of which are the songs on Ellicott’s (hard-to-believe) debut album, Lonesome Goldmine. Wise the person who recognises the opportunity for significant difference, as this innovative and deluxe opus fully legitimises Kuykendall’s and Ellicott’s double-leap into musical terra incognita.

It should be flagged up that, lyrically, this is a fairly introspective and New Age tinged affair, so lovers of sweaty leather jacket clad rockin’ may wish to shop elsewhere. But for the rest of us, there are no sensitivities included that you won’t have given glad welcome to from the likes of Kate Bush, Björk or Joanna Newsom, among whose endeavours (on this showing) Elliott can quite comfortably bump along, as Lonesome Goldmine is an album of quiet but firm intent, containing considerable ambition. So, prepare to embrace your inner-beauty/darkness.

Sound-wise, Goldmine, is not the easiest of albums to describe. To my, idiosyncratic, ear it’s strongly reminiscent of the now lamentably ‘missing’ Mary Margaret O’Hara’s outstanding debut Miss America, had O’Hara been a somewhat more chilled individual (strange concept). It has the same intriguing combination of unforced oddity, personality and melodicism.  It also shares the mark of being music that could only come from North America while being untypical of most American music. To those of you unfamiliar with that comparison try imagining Joni Mitchell making a covers album of Björk songs and turning them all into de-structured jazz ballads. That’s hardly precise but it just about takes you there and it is certainly a place to be.

At eight songs only in length, Lonesome Goldmine is an un-self-indulgently concise collection whose pieces move in woozy mid-tempo, pleasingly drifting yet rhythmically so, in a flutter of brushed drums, muted keyboards and gently plucked strings.  Although the individual songs are clearly demarcated there is a sense of stream-of-consciousness to the lyrics which, alongside the consistently imaginative backing, creates a definite, cohesive, whole.  It reveals some kinship (best illustrated on the excellent winding meditation that is “The Going Prayer”) to Linda Perhacs’s Parallelograms, in both mood and in Ellicott’s ability to create multi-tracked vocal structures, even including the occasional but always effective use of mild dissonance. Although an airy affair, at heart, Ellicott can reach some down-to-ground lyrical territory, as illustrated by “Babya’s” blunt “I went to the Bible, I went to the bottle, I went to the end of the line”.

Kuykendall’s production work is exemplary. Astutely perceiving his role as primarily that of a colourist, he keeps the musical palette uncluttered, leaving Ellicott’s voice foregrounded and giving the delicacies room to bloom. His nous as an electronicist allows him to create delightful, low-key, flourishes that originate from who-knows-what instruments yet he avoids any sense of over-processing of sounds and an open, fundamentally acoustic, warmth is maintained.  Everything is well-crafted but never dissolves into mere tastefulness.

The ace in the hole though, is Annie Ellicott’s voice. Her jazz training enables her to effectively and captivatingly’ ‘float’ vocal phrases above a loose rhythm, in a way that would render most singers disconnected  from their music, while effortlessly staying bang in sync with the beat, “Shadows Live” being  the most purely aeronautical example of this technique. Tonally, her musical background allows her to draw upon a whole raft of uncommon vocal influences so that, while occasionally getting a little Newsomesque around the edges (most noticeably on “Goddess Androgyny”) she’s more regularly found in the sonant jazz company of Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, the previously mentioned Joni Mitchell (circa Hissing Of Summer Lawns) or even, in phrasing, Chet Baker. Perhaps the most winning aspect, though, is the clear, unvarnished, sound of an individual who has waited some time to be able to sing her own story and is making the absolute most of her shot.

That the fashioning of this work has meant a lot to both Ellicott and Kuykendall is clearly audible throughout; they’ve invested themselves in this. Albums that have ‘highly personal’ stamped upon them can, notoriously, topple into self-indulgence. This never happens on Lonesome Goldmine. There’s a high degree of intelligence, here, that keeps a measured step with the winning sincerity and renders the album’s narrative inclusive to even a cursory listen. Indeed, the most lasting impression left by Lonesome Goldmine is that it represents an opening chapter. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Unknown Tone Records

Comments

  1. Shaman Raina says:

    An amazing journey through aural and visual landscapes.