To me, Eryn Shewell has always been a performer that commands attention. She has the easy gift of being able to holding her crowd tightly with her jazz and blues influenced style. Her vocal performance mixes the smooth and sexy power of Beyonce and Aretha Franklin with that classic down and dirty Etta James growl that lasts for days.
Her new music on Eryn Shewell, 4th And Broadway is as lush and elegant as her live delivery. The disc is a good look into the soul of a singer that takes her career past the local yokel half attempt. Her choice of players and arrangements to the sophisticated taste of the artwork conveys top shelf R&B sizzle. And while Shewell and company can get down in the dirt, my feeling is that she likes her dirt with a bit of Dom Perignon on this platter.
As a fan of the big sounds of The Ojays, Donny Hathaway and Al green, the abundance of horn and rhythmic guitar feel is really good here. The additional inflections of Joni Mitchell add icing to an already delicious cake. Eryn sits right in the zone, mixing melodic structure with lots of brass, keys and guitar goodness.
The first thing that hits me is the sonic quality of the recording itself. This is no desperate fantasy gushed out on a Roland 16-track and a couple of guitars, this was well-thought out pre-production and arrangement work. Done at the legendary Trax East and Jpad Music down in Nashville, the disc pops with some of the industry’s best viewpoints as far as production, musicianship and engineering. Pat Ruh plays a huge part on the overall feel here, darting in and out with six and eight stringed interpretations throughout the disc. Add the fact that Eryn chose Antonio Gambrell to decode her arrangements with his “The Contours-meet-Tower Of Power” horn process and this disc is pretty much is going to get noticed wherever it goes.
“Don’t You See” is the hit focus and the featured video included on the CD. Pat Ruh’s acoustic guitars focus the song on Shewell’s imploring vocals perfectly. The mournful string work of Tanya Peterson plays so well within Gambrell’s rose colored arrangements that they have become a hook within the song itself. Arne Wendt’s piano work breaks through the chorus and spills down over the bridges with jagged Bruce Hornsby inspirations before crashing into the beautiful Peterson/Gambrell beds coming back underneath Eryn’s pristine vocal.
I love the weary intro of “Moment” where you can here Eryn take a deep shaky breath before sighing it out. Being in the studio for endless hours is hard work and you can hear what she puts in to this to get a beautiful keeper track. Acoustic guitars, simple pumping bass (courtesy of Apolinar Padilla Jr.) and the back beat shuffling of Tom Cottone drive this breezy tune above the friendly sky of Peterson’s string flings.
Traditional and funky, “Satellite” features a hot and sweaty chorus that boasts a James Brown-driven guitar, horn, bass and drums vamp. Shewell proves time and time again that she is the best at what she does and this song pushes hard and sexy souled vocals throughout. Pat Ruh steps in with a single note run that spot-welds the solid song chassis.
“I Would Wait Forever” is the first song that departs from the direction, veering into a cross breed of new country, adult contemporary and alt rock. Eryn is addictive here, bending sultry come hither vocals into hope for the male population with her smooth and dedicated pledge of dedicated patience. Pat Ruh’s lead kicks up some blue collar dust along this Americana trail way.
“300 Miles” is yet another crossover nugget and Eryn is one of the few that can pull off a ballad and not lose focus of her identity. Pedal Steel guru Sam Getz bumps the attention factor up here 120 percent with his truck stop bends and forlorn country cold steel guitar. The rest of the band steers Eryn into the direction of Nashville’s most respected honky tonks with ease.
“Candle” features Antonio Gambrell, whose knowledge of 1970s arrangements keeps this vibrant. Gambrell’s horn game dodges among Wendt’s Fender Rhoades bling, darting back underneath the funky breaks of Cottone and the bass of Steve Johnson before rolling it our for sax man Andy Citkowitz. Shewell flies easily over the top of this summertime Carole King style dream.
“Work So Hard” shows Shewell dipping into Otis territory. Her phrasing is scary here as she effortlessly belts out the Redding inflection. The breezy break veers left with Tonya Peterson’s simple and vulnerable cello lines running over Steve Cropper inspired guitar before Gambrell’s solo shoots in to clear the road for Ruh’s ice-picked solo. Organs run all around this warm, soulful grind.
“Perfection” brings it down a notch as Cottone brushes the tune into Ruh’s mandolin two-step. Eryn spirals her breathy soprano throughout this mid tempo Tennessee mountain waltz, pianos, and strings keeping it dissonant and beautiful as Antonio maintains the chorus off-kilter perimeter. Once again Chicago, Levon Helm and Sheryl Crow all seem to step in for the dance and we love it. One of my favorite cuts on the disc.
“Whiskey Devil” takes this disc out with a bang. Assisted by lead vocals from Curtis King, the band does what it loves to do best—play the blues. Doubled handclaps underneath the vocal duet of King/Shewell set up the inevitable arrival of the whole band. In they come with Gambrell leading the charge as Ruh and crew shuffle it up Bus Boys style. This is pure party vibe and the gang goes wild, pulling out the stops for a raucous ending. I like the “I’m gonna smoke a cigarette” line in the end tag. Kudos goes to bassist Bernhard Lackner and percussionist Chuggy Carter as well.
There are a few I don’t have time to finish describing here but all 12 songs on 4th And Broadway have a high degree of musical merit far from the humdrum of standard pop musings. And while this disc might be tough for pop oriented labels to pigeonhole, I say that’s good news. I could only see her on Alligator or a label of that quality that cares about the music. Eryn Shewell is the area’s classiest entertainer and I know the journey continues ever upward for this Shoreworld powerhouse. erynshewell.com.
Remembering Robin Suhoskey
On April 18 there will be a memorial concert at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park in the name of Robin Suhoskey to benefit Diabetes research. Robin passed away on Feb. 7, 2010 at the age of 44 and was a member of the Belmar Elks and The Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation. She was also an extremely important part of our music scene and will be missed more than many will ever know.
In memory of her strong support of Shore area music, many local musicians have joined to donate their talent and show their love in her honor. Music is scheduled to start at the Wonder Bar at 3 p.m., and will feature such artists as Bob Burger, Joe D’Urso, Keith Monacchio, Rob Tanico, Matt O’Ree, Maybe Pete and No Wine For Kittens. And while the names are not as important as the actual cause, we thank everyone who donated time for this one of a kind individual.
Tickets are reasonably priced at the door for the small cost of $10. Attend this show, buy a ticket and help make a difference. For more info please go to wonderbarasburypark.com.