Shoreworld: Emily Grove – The Life Of A Commoner

Emily Grove reminds me of a line in The Devil’s Advocate when our lord Al Pacino says, “I’m a surprise, Kevin. They don’t see me coming: and that’s what you’re missing.” That’s the impression you’ll get when you discover a performance from this dark, brooding Berklee-schooled prodigy.

Emily Grove is not your average sugar-laced pop singer down on her knees pleading for prom date consideration and American Idol glory. She’s shown to be wise and articulately mature far above her tender years when it comes to having something to say, and that’s why I’m delighted to be to delving into her brand new 10-song record called, The Life Of A Commoner.

Grove wields a bold and unfurled enthusiasm when it comes to her artistic course, brushing away scholarly opportunities a mere two years into her Berklee background in favor of real life use of her craft. Grove dove deep and continues to do so, taking studio and stage with just about every Tri-State artist out there today. Her quest for experiencing the complete picture has led her to exciting locations including stages in the UK and innumerable areas of the United States. She has shared the stage with Willie Nile, Ari Hest, Marshall Crenshaw, Glen Burtnik, Dan Reed and Johnny Lefler from Dashboard Confessional to name an elite few.

Her recent tour circumstances with the ever-popular David Ford has only added to her musical validation as was her production choice of Jack Daley for her first EP, Way Across The Sea, and now Jason Rubal (Amanda Palmer) for this heartfelt creation of The Life Of A Commoner.

The first thing that hits me is the juxtaposition of writing and production. Grove and Rubal dance with the novel, understood perspective of a pair of Whirling Dervishes, rotating around each other and handing off lyrical premonition and sumptuous melodies, brandishing accoutrements and myriads of pure, unadulterated tone.

Switchblade-brandishing waltzes slip into rhythmic patterns on “I Hate Mondays.” Grove’s structure is precise and filled with the poise of a black widow. Descending methodically, she ensnares the listener with hypnotic acoustic guitars, injecting them with a rolling lullaby of backdrop instrumentation. She wraps it all in a chrysalis of sound effect and white noise that grows within the screaming, hushed spectrum of the ensnared harmony. Grove’s ability to paint claustrophobic anguish is poignant and remarkable here.

“Lock Me Out” rises out of the darkness, steeped in minor chord dominance and presenting some early alt rock reconstruction. “Lock Me Out” isn’t as concentrated as the disc opener, but it features Grove in a way I don’t see her too much, which is within a band structure. I love the power and tone of her voice here; I just don’t like the song. It has moments such as the chorus, which clearly rises to the observant occasion, but compositionally, it just doesn’t end up very far from where it starts out.

Having said that, by the time we get to “Timothy,” she’s locked back into the flow I was looking for. Grove free falls in the style of Patty Griffin here, soaring with crystal clear soprano tone, flying up and down the scale with smooth glissando. Acoustics stay out of the way as Grove sets all right within her role as a faith healer, friend and confidante.

“Flea” twirls into the stratosphere, synth modules blaze before Grove throws the band into the mix. This time she hits the mark and the focus is awesome. Her chorus choice is memorable for weeks and I really like the way the drums come into the second verse, governing the section and driving this catchy jewel into hit land. Grove blows into the middle-eight à la Joni Mitchell before echo-stoked guitars press melodic code into the end piece.

Title-track “The Life Of A Commoner” combines the sweat and toil of a chain gang rhythm and a worker’s ode to the signs of the times. Emboldened valor marches forth from the five-foot-(something) Grove as she leads a rebel rousing chorus of, “We will not sit down!” to the very finish. This is about a form of civil rebellion pure and simple. Wherever one may fall, more will appear. Hand claps and guitar unite stomping foot, drum and tambourine in this story of faith and salvation. It reminds me of Delta Rae’s cadenced moxie on “Bottom Of The River,” and Emily strikes a decisive chord on this “one-for-all” tune.

“Spider” spins complex webs of cynical illustration. Grove hits a solid home run as she belts out the song’s catchy, addictive chorus. Drums, bass and guitar hang back in dynamic pockets, waiting for Grove’s signal to break free and rush into the spatial fields of analog glory. Grove’s voice runs the gamut from Annie Haslam-like octaves to the Dolores O’Riordan-toned zone in which she tends to roam. Grove also shows her feisty side on “Spider.” Here she confronts the true narcissist; face-to-face action comes from armor-clad words of forced self-evaluation aimed at those who have created their web of shadow-coated lies. This is my choice for radio gold and it flashes bright, from beginning to finish.

“Scream” switches gears and heads down an unusual aggregate of Nicole Atkins Blvd. and REM Drive. Narcotic guitars pick minor chords through the verse, driving this dark rocker into Grove’s sing-song lullabies. One of the returning beliefs I have about this artists is her intense and complicated lyrical symbolism. Grove wills it to the listener to make the final decision about her words and it’s unquestionably a lesson on interpretive principles with “Scream.” Take a listen; you’ll know exactly what I’m saying.

“Nothing In Return” traverses unrequited love. The disappointments and trials of being let down time after time flash furiously into the bubbling verse. Drums percolate with hi-hat sizzle as bass simmers one-note resonance under guitars before the band jumps on the downstroke verse. Reinforcement harmonies fit seamlessly as Grove squares off with her subject, braiding country-tinged candy all over the concluding choruses.

Grove waxes poetic on all things emotionally suspect on “The Call.” I had a conversation about Grove with another musician recently and originally we assumed Grove to be some bright, poppy singer-songwriter looking for a quick way into the industry. But after getting to know her, we couldn’t have been further off base. This material shows the complex perceptibility of an artist looking for colors and shapes instead of straight, black and white lines. Her growth as a writer is confirmed by songs such as this Janis Ian-styled story. Dark, contemplative and emotionally raw, Emily Grove tells us she has nothing to conceal, throwing true anguish, euphoria and triumph right into the mix, and that’s why this works.

Grove concludes her record with the pure vocal expression of “Johnny Lee.” Grove casts aside all instrumentation, singing a capella and landing one the richest heartfelt performances I’ve heard from the area in quite some time. Grove’s intimacy comes through in spades, concentrating the listener on her Monet-like ability to shape and create eloquent passages and melodic areas of shade and sunlight as she guides you down pathways of traditional Celtic odes to love. The unreserved verse of loyalty, memory and a strong bonding that time cannot exterminate all stands at hushed attention as Grove ends this disc in her own independent fashion.

With the exception of a couple of songs that appeared quite similar (keys and chords), The Life Of A Commoner is a noteworthy statement. Emily Grove is a musician who takes the path less explored and does things her own way. In a music scene where many borrow everything (and everyone), it can become quite an incestuous circle, but Grove’s player and producer choices continue to keep her out of the Lemming brigade and inside her own circle of success.

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