May Erlewine – Tiny Beautiful Things
This Michigan-based artist’s songs focus on empowerment, heartbreak, emotional exchanges & sharing your life with others. It’s at once enthusiastic & optimistic. Unlike others I’ve heard this year — she’s not a downer. May Erlewine (lead vocals/guitar on “He Knows”) has all the standard folk singer common stock in her repertoire but thankfully she isn’t like the intense, persistent Joan Baez who always meant well for humankind but never understood the wages of reality.
May isn’t a pontificator, lecturer, or pretentious. She’s an artist. Many tunes are good. She’s not always necessarily innovative or challenging (not that one needs to be) but May sings, plays & writes well & keeps it interesting. Ms. Erlewine has a wonderful voice & on her new 10-cut LP the showcase is consistently entertaining.
Tiny Beautiful Things (Drops May 13– Independent) is a 30-minute set of music that falls neatly into an array made familiar by the late Nanci Griffith (“Changing” “He Knows”). “I don’t want to live in fear of changing.” Yes, indeed. Pensive, calm, thought-provoking, always within the realms of compelling. The opening piano tune “Easy,” skitters around a Melanie Safka style with playful seriousness. Songs are individually lavish on their own merit.
Produced by May with Joe Hettinga (synths/electric keyboard/upright & grand piano, guitar on “A Hunger”) each new release expands her scope. Many artists have gone once too many times to the pandemic well. May balances her program. Covid may wear heavily on many minds, but this isn’t material that’s going to age well. Nor is an audience going to wish to be reminded of the tainted luxury of inconvenience.
Instead, May has substance. If it’s something crucial it’s through her own perspective window. She’s the lone lantern down a long dark tunnel & she asks that you bring your ears.
Though not as soulful as the late Laura Nyro, May’s equally imaginative. She’s as poignant as the late pianist-singer Judee Sill (“The Kiss,” “Jesus Was a Cross-maker”). “Lion Heart,” is a stunner & it makes her today’s Judee Sill. A song like “Could Have Been,” confirms it. “Worlds Apart” is a beauty.
A touch of Norah Jones’s tonality comes on (“Tiny Beautiful Things”) & her final “Brought Me To You,” is touching, powerfully sung with emotion yet never over-emotive. I like her. Great record. One of the year’s best – no doubt.
Musicians — Julian Allen (drums), Meg Brennan (flute), Anthony DaCosta (guitars – “Lion Heart”), Eric Kuhn (electric guitar – “Lion Heart & “Your Someone”), Max Lockwood (bass – “Lion Heart”), Caleb Elzinga (sax), Joel Gottschalk (bass), Theo Katzman (background vocals & electric lead guitar – “Easy” & “Worlds Apart”), Leanne King (viola), Packy Lundholm (acoustic guitars), Will Preece (cello), Michael Shimmin (drums/percussion), Andrew Szumowski (pedal steel) & Katie VanDusen (violin).
Photo courtesy of May & Michael Poehlman. CD available @ https://www.mayerlewine.com/