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May Erlewine May Erlewine
Album: Second Sight
Label: Tone City
Tracks: 9

May Erlewine is an established musician, singer and writer from Big Rapids Michigan. She has released over twenty albums since 2003, recently collaborating on live shows with Beth Nielsen Chapman who is a good reference point with her sophisticated piano ballads and fine vocals.

"New Morning (Short Stack)" with a piano refrain that nods to Labi Siffre's "(Something Inside) So Strong)" works like an overture or a palette cleanser, setting up the rest of the album and raising a sense of expectation. "Here We Are" is intelligent singer songwriter material, flowing piano and electronics underpin May's fine vocal. There is a country twang to her voice, but against this backing it has the feel of those dry sophisticated Laurel Canyon Jackson Browne albums. "My Best for You" is a gentle ballad again with Erlewine's superb vocal and that ringing piano to the fore, there is a plaintive intimate Anais Mitchell quality to her singing which is utterly captivating. "Whole Again" reflects on the passage of time and change in a thoughtful way.

May's voice is beautifully layered and the piano has a limpid almost jazz Bill Evans quality. This is the song where found myself hitting repeat, closing my eyes and letting it just wash over me as it builds. The percussion looped or real on "Eyes on the road" circles in an interesting way, while the guitar and piano chime and accent that repeating rhythm. Erlewine's voice is nuanced and quietly emotional, subtle as a watercolour before the charged but restrained guitar solo from Eric Khun, another one that just kept getting repeated. May is a master of the slow build, "That's My Home" develops from a minimal start through an almost pop passage with an earworm "that's my heart, that's my home" chorus. She is also a master of the surprise as the song bends into a passage of emotive Jeff Beck like electric guitar notes.

"Heaven" is a slow song with one of those measured warm Mary Gauthier vocals, where every note is given room to breathe. The massed voice vocal chorus is a joy too, with a real gospel fire in her voice by the end of the song. "How Can I Return" has another jazzy, thoughtful piano part from Tyler Duncan and sophisticated intelligent playing from the rest of the band, allowing May to ponder a series of questions. "Together In My Mind" lets the guitar breathe through behind a delicate vocal from Erlewine, this track just oozes minimal sophistication and class. "Afraid" with a sublime abstract opening, a husky quality to May's voice and some fine gospel dry brass, is the best left till last. The tempo, the space, the chiming piano and that perfectly nuanced vocal touched with the slow blues of Sam Cook's version of "A Change Is Gonna Come identify this as a sensitive classic. Everything else is taken away, pared back to the essentially spiritual to make a final song that just glows with pure class and restraint. Perfect closer on a quiet storm of an album.

There are moments when the guard slips on this song and others like "Eyes On The Road" and you realise there is a subtext of soulful determined resistance to current pain with a look towards a brighter future where "its gonna take every last one of us, gonna take building a bridge, not building a wall". Beneath the soulful vocals, measured arrangements and sensitive playing this an album of subtle protest, a reminder to be better than we are now.

Marc Higgins