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Emily Maguire - A Bit of Blue (Shaktu Records)
Emily Maguire is a British born singer songwriter and this is her fifth release and her first after a three-year break. Maguire a classically trained musician was out of action for two years, suffering from chronic tendonitis. Unable to play a bout of depression followed. Emily is the first to acknowledge that this album came from a dark time in her life, but recognises in the song I’d Rather Be that light often comes out of or with dark. The album is more stripped back than her earlier albums, but X Factor producer Nigel Butler works with Emily's soulful songs and in terms of emotional intensity less is definitely more.
Emily's voice over the keyboards and subtle orchestration on the opening track is captivating, there are no histrionics or gymnastics, just a warm voice that draws you in and holds your attention. The emotion rises on the short chorus and the albums first mention of the blue lyrical motif. This is classic intelligent 70s singer songwriter territory, recalling piano led ballads by Judie Tsuke or Carole King. Emotionally intense with a simple arrangement. Getting Older places the intimate vocal against a gently picked guitar. Again, Emily Maguire's vocal and her delivery of an emotive lyric, a personal narrative laid bare, draws you in and holds you tight. The title song is plaintive, but ultimately upbeat showing how difficulties can colour life in a positive way.
For Free is more outward looking as Maguire considers the natural world and its freedom against the seductive but shallow freedoms of our online line selves. Its Alright is a song of love gone cold, as over some anthemic piano chords, Emily lays herself bare. Like so many of the songs, this is a beautiful lyric with some sharp word play and a powerful vocal. Now Somehow is an album highlight, a torch song, a jazz standard in the making. Beautiful playing, an earworm melody, broad themed lyrics and a crystalline vocal make this a perfect moment. This should be picked up by a moody TV thriller, its brooding atmosphere are crying out for a melancholic Wallandar or a Broadchurch. The Banks of the Acheron is an achingly beautiful folk song, a dark portrait of a miscarriage. The Words That I Could I Say is another love gone cold song, written, like Its Alright, when a head full of thoughts keeps you awake, but this time the songwriter is frozen by circumstance and less decisive.
Stone And Sky is a ghost story, a starting point for a Neil Gaiman tale, and a metaphor for people frozen by circumstances, unable to go forwards or back. Like Wish You Were Here, I'd Rather Be is a song that weighs out metaphors, similar, but less gnomic than Simon and Garfunkels El Condor Pasa, it is a song of conclusions and resolutions after an album of reflection and examination. It's a brave soul who takes on Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Sandy Denny's anthemic pondering of passing time and it's an indication of Emily Macguire's quiet power that she makes it her own on this hymn like album closer.
This is a brave and powerful album, a perfect example of a songwriter deciding we need to see it all, raw and real, not autotuned and homogenised. True to herself, having sung of taking the highs and lows over hiding in a narrow mind, Emily gives it to us straight, giving us an album of performances that have intensity and integrity. It cannot be coincidence that the title, the cover and its stripped back, paired back nature recalls Joni Mitchell's BLUE, an intense album of relationships under the microscope songs