On first listen, LA’s Emily Zuzik is impressive as an early Sheryl Crow/Carly Simon prior to commercial corrosion. Her engaging qualities are what Crow & Simon lost. Today “country, Americana” is a pop/roots hybrid. Songwriters seldom adhere to qualities of Country without indulging pop clichés.
The 10-cut Ted Russell Kamp produced Torch & Trouble (released Aug 2020 – Independent) showcases Zuzik’s superb voice & instincts — with a fragility where many artists falter. I didn’t say fail.
Despite success in many venues, it’s not an accurate measure of creativity, just in a showcase. The Bay City Rollers succeeded. Where are they now? No, the measure is in Emily’s natural ability. Musicians say she mixes many styles, but styles already established. She still needs to shape a musical identity.
“…. the songs kick you in the ass.” Yes, but are they memorable? Do they have longevity, poignancy, strength & conviction? Critically acclaimed? So was Moby Grape. Who? Admirers say the playing is great, it is — but does that translate to an ability to create?
I like Emily Zuzik.
Emily’s been singing a long time, her experience shows, but what’s her vision?
She’s urban & earthy? What does that mean musically? Does she sit on a city stoop with a banjo on her knee? A singer as an artist challenges existing music. Elvis, the Beatles, Tom Waits, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Billie Holiday & Joni Mitchell (from folk singer to jazz? That’s a leap), her song structures, meter, vocalizing, phrasing – her vision.
Emily should gather Sheryl Crow’s original crumbs of promise, add her more attractive vocals to a Crow-Lucinda Williams twist. Boilermaker music, cold frosty beer, with a shot of whiskey.
“Stay Wild,” is sweet on rhymes, power & tone — Emily’s forté. But with a standard formula arrangement: mediocre. The better performance is “Get It Right,” yet, it’s bogged down by lyrical cliche, basic drums & guitars. The remedy? A pinch of lyrical salt, a listen to early Joan Armatrading’s pure melodies with her inventive word bite.
“Chinese Food & Donuts” has country merit, is pleasing but would’ve been more daring if it paralleled a junk food life with missed opportunities. “Trouble” rocks formulaic. “Magic” is Bonnie Raitt tawny without the slide guitar. Guitars meander jazz-like, expressionless. Drums have presence. The Spanish-flavored “Shadows,” has wonderful 50s balladry. Sinatra would use better inflection & intonation, but Emily has sincerity. On slow tunes, she is quite good. “All That Love” is a jewel.
Emily’s versatility is commendable. Guidance with production beyond just being well recorded (which it is) could be dynamic.
Image & niche. All artists mentioned had one, and Willie Nelson went from suit & tie to long hair & beard.
Lyrics need more compelling subjects & fewer cliches. Create a persona people will remember.
Torch & Trouble satisfies.
Available at Bandcamp & http://www.emilyzuzik.com/