Sunday, 15 June 2014

Album Review - An Easy Escape

An Easy Escape
by Shelley Segal (out now)

My first ever gig write up with the team here at IMKOS was reviewing the lovely Shelley Segal at Bennets Lane Jazz club here in Melbourne last year. It was a fantastic night of music and a wonderful introduction to the musical works of Shelley Segal. At the time she was touring with guitarist Adam Levy to promote their collaborative album Little March. Since that night, the album has been a staple in my list of modern jazz tunes to play when the sun goes down and I want to mellow the mood.

So when I recently saw on Shelley Segal’s Facebook page that she was about to start crowd funding to record a brand new album, I immediately pledged to help this become a reality. Crowd funding it seems is the way of the future – and the present – for artists wanting to have creative control over their works. A side note here - my partner is an actor and film maker. A little while ago a story written by the legendary sci-fi novelist Terry Pratchett was given to an independent film company he works closely with. To get this film off the ground this little indie company opened its doors to crowd funding. They aimed for a budget of $45000. They got almost TWICE that via fans around the world. It seems that if you can create a following for your art, then true fans are more than happy to donate to the cause. I think it also gives the fans that extra connection to the work and perhaps a personal connection to the artist themselves.

So back to Shelley. Her new album, recorded in London, offered all kinds of rewards for pledgers if the goal was reached including a personalised phone call to the pledger on their birthday. I love the way this new fundraising really connects artists and art lovers today. And Shelley embraced this process fully – with regular email updates to let pledgers know how the project was going and how close to making the goal she was.

An Easy Escape is a bright colourful album both in sound and visuals. A gorgeous illustration on the front which characterises Shelley as a band leader leads a group of all sorts across what looks like a desert. I was immediately reminded of my old LP collection and the way that vinyl records really took into account that an album should present itself not just as musical art – but as a piece of visual art also. There is a lot of illustrative detail that I just go gah gah for on this cover. The album opens up with two sleeve pockets on the inside – again like the inside of a retro LP. The CD itself sits inside a soft plastic sleeve – which yet again had a vintage touch – as if this CD should be treasured.

The first track ‘What I Want’ is a glorious sweep up and down the emotional waters of self-perseverance and the power of going after what you want. I love the lyrics in the chorus particularly “more and more I am discovering what I am living for…yeh I know what I want…the going will get tough…but getting there’s gonna be fun… and every day I’m finding my song” Perhaps as I am an artist myself the theme of this track resonates with my own journey. That feeling of pushing forward to achieve a dream even though others may not understand is one that I connect to fully. This song is catchy enough to have made me flip back a few times to try and learn the lyrics to sing along.

It doesn’t take long to realise that there are a lot of catchy tracks on this album. ‘Morocco’, which is second up, tells a story of a chance meeting in Marrakesh with a man selling weed. The story brings forth some travelling experiences including meeting a young drummer boy who was high on sniffing glue. This song has in fact caused a bit of controversy about the country of Morocco itself. For me, there is no controversy here – just a great song and an artist’s reflections on how travelling brings forth the unexpected. There is a bright and colourful and very fun film clip that accompanies this upbeat song accompanies the track. I love the part of the song that has the “Hey hey hey yeh! Hey hey hey…”. ‘Morocco’ is definitely one of my favourite tracks from the album.

There are some heartfelt ditties on An Easy Escape such as the song ‘Don’t Play With My Heart’. This song reflects a little back to the jazzy sound and sentimentalities that Segal created on her last album Little March. It’s perhaps the starts of the theming of relationships and their breakdowns that feature throughout the album.

The power of Segal’s big vocal belt are let loose in ‘King of Mine’ as she squarely hits the mark with a touch of a rock ballad. I love the story of this track – as it pays homage to the lover that is royal in only their beloved’s eyes only. Regardless of what others see, when you behold your love you see a King or a Queen. The upbeat feel follows through with the “do do do do do” intro of ‘Hitchhiking Song’. Again, there is that conversational feel and the notion of meeting people while travelling that hold intrigue for the listener. “I hope we find our humanity, I hope we find our heart...this is my love song to everybody on the earth…” I love the joy yet the bittersweet sentiment that is expressed in this song. There are echoes of political poetics in this song – with a suggestion those countries richer in pocket are often not as welcoming as those without. There is also a killer guitar solo toward the end that had me bopping my head along and enjoying the ride.

‘Hurry Back’ was a stripped back song on the previous album Little March. On An Easy Escape the song is revisited with a fuller, band sound. The effect is a country rock track that sits somewhere between a break up song and a get back together anthem.

Next along ‘Big Fish’ opens with a more subdued opening featuring keys, guitar and Shelley’s lovely voice. I really like this track for its change of pace. The layering steps up as does the intensity with the chorus reminding us that there are “plenty more fish in the sea….so don’t you cry….don’t you cry…”

The themes of break up follow through in the next track ‘Big Bang’ which describes the disbelief and the anger at a lover ditching you. There is a nice interlude in the song where the big folk rock sound is stripped down to just keys and vocals. This light and shade reminds me of the ups and downs that come as one grieves a terminated relationship

‘Answering Machine’ opens with the lyrics “I wish that I was cooler than I am….I wish I didn’t care…I wish I didn’t go through all these things in my head when you’re not there”. The slow and sultry opening swiftly switches to an upbeat almost cha cha cha groove that had me bopping along immediately. The theme of relationships and their challenges is definitely a running thread through this album and this thematic through-line continues here.

The last song is the shortest in length. This song reflects back to Shelley’s previous album with a more jazzy acoustic feel. It’s a lovely finish to the album and lets Segal’s voice truly be the star of the show.

This album is a delightful ride with a full band sound led firmly by the bold and beautiful voice of Shelley. I was reminded throughout of the legendary Ani di Franco – particularly in the lyrical writing style. Segal’s vocal style on this album has an almost conversational rhythm that di Franco is famous for and like Ani, Shelley still manages to soar up to the big notes with much grunt and a hell of a lot of panache. If you’re looking for an indie folk rock getaway, Shelley Segal provides you with An Easy Escape.

Lou Endicott gives An Easy Esape four Joss Stone heads out of five....

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