An impressive album of faultless country-folk from the newest recruit to John Prine’s Oh Boy label.
To say that John Prine’s Oh Boy label is selective in choosing its artists would be something of an understatement. In 2019 the excellent Kelsey Waldon became their first new artist signing for 15 years. Since then, there has been a relative flurry with Tré Burt and Arlo McKinley also joining the roster. In such company it is not unreasonable to approach the latest Oh Boy recruit, Emily Scott Robinson, with a high level of expectation. With ‘American Siren’ her first album for the label, Robinson not only fulfils that expectation, but she also actually exceeds it and in doing so raises an already high bar at the label. If the Oh Boy label is to be part of his great legacy, one can imagine that with this release John Prine will be affording himself a big legal smile from up above.
Having released ‘Magnolia Queen’ in 2016 and the acclaimed follow-up ‘Traveling Mercies’ in 2019, Emily Scott Robinson was signed to Oh Boy Records for her third release. The resultant record is a gorgeous slice of emotional folk-country that like all good records, grows with each listen. Written during the isolation of lockdown, the songs are a warming mixture of Robinson’s personal experiences and her imagining of great stories. Blessed with a pure and true voice and a talented guitarist, Robinson on that level alone would cut an impressive figure. However, on the evidence of ‘American Siren’ it is the quality of her songwriting that really sets her apart. The album’s title reflects the theme of the record as she explains, “I think the thread running through the album is those things that call us, and how we can’t resist that call”.
All ten songs on the album are self-penned and all are of such quality that it seems almost finicky to single out any for particular attention. Nevertheless, ‘Hometown Hero’ in which Robinson addresses the death of her cousin, one of too many veterans lost to suicide, is a really powerful reflection on personal family tragedy. ‘Lost Woman’s Prayer’ is about the impression made by a friend she met whilst travelling abroad, ‘If Trouble Comes a Lookin’ is a prime example of Robinson’s ability to conjure up a great story in a country ballad and ‘Things You Learn the Hard Way’ was put together from stories shared by fans on her social media pages.
All the songs on the album are delivered with a sparse folk-tinged backing which allows the songs themselves to cut through and shine. Yet despite the musical presentation, at its heart ‘American Siren’ is a country album, exploring the familiar emotional issues of love, heartache and loss. Signing to Oh Boy would seem like a good fit for Robinson. John Prine spent his whole musical life blurring the lines between folk and country. Emily Scott Robinson does much the same thing and like Prine she can knock out a great set of songs.