By Jeff Milo
It’s a small phenomenon, but also somewhat redundant, when we consider how we engage a painting differently than we would a recorded piece of music. Of course, you would. But can that exchange with paint on canvas ever be replicated with the way you would listen to music? We ask because those same ways in which a painting would ask more of you, would connect with you in a quiet profundity, would invite you to slow down so that you may turn over the complex layers beneath the surface, is replicated on this new album, by singer/songwriter Anne Erlewine, who, notably, is also a painter. But Erlewine has, until this month, been singularly classified as a painter, as Over The Bones is her long-building debut album.
Erlewine will perform this weekend up in Cadillac at the annual Earthwork Harvest Gathering, an all-ages music/culture festival celebrating the abundance that is accessible through the community. Earthwork is also a music label that is home to artists like Seth Bernard, Red Tail Ring, Joshua Davis, and Anne’s younger sister May Erlewine. Over The Bones was produced by acclaimed Michigan(/California) singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate, and recorded & mixed at High Bias Studios, with Chris Koltay, in Detroit; it’s available September 27 via Earthwork Music. If you’re headed to Earthwork’s festival this weekend: Erlewine is performing Saturday, at 9pm, at the Barn Stage.
Erlewine’s songs, with Bathgate’s production, evoke the earthy hum and autumnal chill of northern Michigan’s pastoral wooded areas and farmland. All set to strolling, or drifting tempos, meditative pedal steel guitars warble in slowly over minimal percussive taps and the quiet boom of a bass; Erlewine’s acoustic guitar and lilting, songbird vocals are the warm, glowing heartbeat of the album, but it is curtained by the occasional ambient rumble of Bathgate’s furtive electric guitar, which isn’t adding a melody as much as it’s poignantly varying it’s growl to fit the mood of each song. The end result is a refreshingly indiscernible middle ground between what you’d imagine as traditional folk songs, with ambient-rock and neo-Americana.
Erlewine’s voice has a weight to it, simultaneously comforting like the knitted blanket you’d use to keep warm or unyielding in earnestness like the chill of a blanket of snow as it settles truths down in a drifting, easy melody. From the outset she implores you, in sung verse, to “open up your heart” and “let your mind rest,” coiling a mantra-like melody that suggests you view your feelings as a “base” of safety. As we suggested earlier, this is a record that somehow seems to make eye contact with you, if you’re listening closely–and if that sentence reads abstractly, it’s only because we’re tying it back to that powerful connection you would otherwise make with a painting.
Often when we listen to acoustic-centric music that can sit in the realms of roots, folk, or Americana, there is a sense of the organic, of warmth that can’t be found in the comparably fidgety or hurried pulse of other pop-inclined genres. And it’s often you’ll read a reviewer remark about music like Erlewine’s as attaining a “haunting beauty…” That’s not to suggest that it’s gothic or phantasmagoric in a conventional sense, but rather haunting because of it’s, for lack of a better word, it’s realness; it’s relatability. That it can touch, soothe, or agitate a feeling or a memory, and provide an outlet for healing by way of a poetically-wound string of words…
But it comes back to that power you feel when you gaze upon a painting; the indescribable sense that you’re granted access to space where that artist laid this down, the remains of the moments are crystallized with colors by way of oils on canvas, or voices and guitars on a record. That you can feel transported back to the room, to the mindset, and feel the conditions and contemplations that brought these words and music into being through recorded sounds…is what’s most remarkable about Anne Erlewine’s debut album. You get that sense that even though this is the artist’s “first” record; it’s been in a kind of half-existence for 10 years or more.
The video you’re streaming above was filmed in San Francisco, during one of Erlewine’s visits to Bathgate’s new home on the west coast. For more info, follow https://www.facebook.com/anarcanum
For more information on the Earthwork Harvest Gathering, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/433474433931428/