Leland & the Silver Wells “Leland & the Silver Wells” (Independent, 2018)

This lovely album of poetic music can seem portentous at first, but its depth and beauty reveal themselves on repeated listens. The tone is set by the opening track, ‘We Dissolve,’ which features almost orchestral instrumentation underpinned by heavy drumming and backing vocals that sound as if they were sung by an entire choir.

The words are not always easy to make out amid the fullness of the musical landscape. So let’s allow Leland Ettinger, the Los Angeles-based artist and multi-instrumentalist who fronts the band, to explain the concept herself. She wanted, she says, to make an album that felt like an emotional journey, like a novel.

“This group of songs comprise the protagonist’s journey through valleys and swamps, through dark alleys, across oceans, high atop the mountain, deep inside the forest, and across the desert plain to redemption …” she says. “I want the listener to be transported on an emotional journey of healing and truth.”

The tone does vary somewhat among the nine tracks. ‘Shallow Ties,’  for example, features somewhat little-girlish singing and feathery backup vocals.

Was a Prisoner’ is underpinned by violins – you don’t call them fiddles when they’re played like this – along with, from the sound of it, cello and piano. “I was a prisoner of love, of love …” Ettinger sings. “He held my hand/Trapped on dry land/With nowhere to stand/Inside the stormy winter evening … I was a prisoner of love … Release me and set me free.”

Luck of the Draw,’ by contrast, has a bluesy feel. And ‘Lost My Way’ sounds, for much of it, as if the vocalist is backed by a classical string quartet, though other orchestral instruments do join the mix.

This is not dance music by any means. The instrumentation is heavy at times, the words not easy to penetrate on first listen. One is reminded of the dictum of the American poet Ezra Pound: “The poem fails when it strays too far from the song. And the song fails when it strays too far from the dance.”

These songs are a long way from the dance. And, as the best americana songwriters – from Guy Clark to Jesse Winchester, Kevin Welch and others – have shown, you don’t have to be ponderous to convey deep meaning.

But this music is deeply felt, highly ambitious, and ultimately moving. It’s an album that will grow on you over time.

6/10

Summary

Leland And The Silver Wells deliver an orchestral, novel-like album of fully instrumented poetry

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