Review of Lost songs by Paul Zollo (writer of the book Songwriters on songwriting)

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Review by Paul Zollo from: http://bluerailroad.wordpress.com/reviews/

Ellie Lawson, Lost Songs * This is astounding. This is worth pulling the car over to the side of the road and listening. This is worth stopping everything for. This is a young woman plugged directly into the electric source of creativity. This is songwriting and record-making of the highest level.

Among the many music-lovers in her native England and here in the USA, I was utterly entranced and jazzed by the wonder that was her debut CD, The Philosophy Tree. Even Ellen Degeneres loved her, inviting her to perform on her show before those of us in the know knew about her. But many artists peak on their first record, that first collection of songs culled from years of writing, whereas the sophomore effort is famously disappointing. Not so with Lost Songs, the new album from Ellie. She’s followed an amazing debut with a genuine wonder. Lost Songs, an 18-song collection of brilliance and inspiration, is a tour de force, a work by an artist at the peak of her creative potential. Here she’s not unlike Brian Wilson during his “Good Vibrations” excursion, both envisioning and realizing songs of great sophistication, as ornately and ingeniously arranged as a symphony, yet glowing with the golden radiance of the greatest pop singles. She succeeds, as did Brian, in being simple and complex at the same time, and her talent as a singer and musician matches the ambition of her songwriting and arranging chops. She’s a very rare artist, in that she has seamlessly fused the rhythms, rhymes and energy of hip-hop with the visceral edge of rock, the intimacy and tenderness of folk (both American and British), and the sweet seduction of pop. Though 18 songs are contained all on a single disc here, rather than be overkill, it flows with the inspirational expansive span of Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life – an abundance of riches; a miracle of an artist spinning is all directions at once and yet remaining radiantly focused.

Often she packs her lyrics with brisk successions of rhymes, like the rapid inner echoes of hip-hop and rap but with the heartfelt and poetic reach of folk – it’s as if Jay Z collaborated with Joni Mitchell. Only better. It’s very much 21st century music, in that it encompasses, really, almost all genres of music. It’s orchestral and intimate at the same time, both very rocking and very gentle.

She plays with traditional song structures, deconstructing and expanding them – often rising from a great chanted chorus into a kind of second chorus that bursts through with flames of exultation. She flirts with dynamics constantly: from fat polyrhythmic, multi-layered sound mammoths to naked voice and acoustic guitar; from fast, conversational word-jammed verses to sparsely worded sections of luminous melody; from verbose eruptions of language to haunting repetitions of simple phrases. Her music weaves threads from so many spheres of music that this is truly world music, but one that doesn’t conjoin two disparate worlds as much as it brings together all realms into a kind of musical Esperanto that has to be experienced to understand.

Great counterpoints of exotic vocal lines here, woven into the mix like Turkish violins, roll with the oceanic splendor of gospel at its most fevered – it’s all about ecstatic spirit speaking through physical forms. Often her music sounds channeled from another universe, bonded in the bedrock of unbroken rhythm. Many songs, like “One Another,” set a chanted chorus against wordless melismatic sections and then explodes into rich melodicism, stacking contrapuntal beds of vocals against soulful expeditions of the heart. “Apple” is an amazement, merging an urgent, passionate chorus with declarative mosaics of rapped verses set against great vocal riffs. It’s a powerful intersection between what’s best of what’s new and old; the beauty of pure melody with celestial harmonies and the timeless structures of classic songwriting. Like Joni Mitchell, she intimately shapes her art to match the specific sound and nature of her own singing.

As multi-hued as this is, it is not eclectic anymore than the Beatles were eclectic. What we have is the sound of new ground being broken. Rather than avoid the advent of hip-hop and rap, as have many traditionally-minded songwriters, she embraces and celebrates the greatness of the new music with the same respect with which she honors the traditions of the old. This music is so rich, so finely envisioned and realized, that you can fall into these tracks, and live in them for days at a time. In a world where a scarcity of substance prevails, this collection swims against the current of what’s conventional, packing in all the tunefulness, rhythmic and verbal wonder that tracks can hold. This is sensational. –PZ. www.ellielawson.com www.myspace.com/ellielawson

14 thoughts on “Review of Lost songs by Paul Zollo (writer of the book Songwriters on songwriting)

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