Supporting Firefly Garden
By Emily J Ramey
Written for Merry Ellen Kirk
Merry Ellen Kirk is a poet. Perhaps “songwriter” is a more commonly used term, but it’s also too commonplace for Merry Ellen’s glittering narratives, songs that spring up wildly from her subconscious and bloom into vibrant, lilting melodies. Her sparkling piano refrains sweep and spill into fresh, sweet rivulets of notes; her lyrics weave bright, halcyon tales of dream sequences, the light and dark polarities of the human experience, and beauty in its many forms. “I write about light and dark a lot… good and evil, dreams and reality, the darker and lighter parts of the human soul,” she explains.
Despite the undeniable tension in her thematic obsessions, Merry Ellen Kirk explores her dichotomies with grace. She writes songs with the cool effortlessness of youth, sings with the jaunty simplicity and breezy flair of a practiced performer, and plays with fleet fingers and subtle polish. In cultivating her own sound, Merry Ellen has employed a few key elements from her predecessors: the classical prowess of Tori Amos, the natural poise of Sarah McLachlan, the quiet pensiveness of A Fine Frenzy, and the bold whimsy of Regina Spektor.
Growing up a missionaries’ daughter in Mongolia has had its effect on Merry Ellen’s music, creating a refreshingly broad perspective from so young a person. “I think it mostly comes out in my approach to life. I feel like more of my songs are about the world and making the world a better place. My music is about seeing the world and being better for it.”
Of her unconventional childhood musical inclinations Merry Ellen reveals, “In Mongolia, they don’t have pianos, but I knew it was always something that I wanted to do – play piano. So when we moved back, I started taking lessons.” They were the tiny seeds of something greater, a glowing catalyst dawning on Merry Ellen’s path. “It was definitely a huge risk to just put myself out there and start doing this full time when I was seventeen. I had only written a couple of songs, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”
A true Nashville singer/songwriter, Merry Ellen works best under pressure, dividing her artistic talents among multiple projects – like serving as half of burgeoning folk duo The Shakespeares and developing a pop venture with fellow songwriter Rachel Pearl – all the while tending her own flowering repertoire. “I’m inspired by other artists, and sometimes things in nature, too, because God’s the artist there. I write songs from those moments.”
On her sophomore album, Firefly Garden, 21-year-old Merry Ellen spins a gossamer web of silvery tunes that glints and glistens with morning dew and lightly stroked piano keys. “Every week for ten weeks I recorded a song, and it was really therapeutic for me. It was freeing,” she says. “I think that’s what the album is about: all this crazy stuff is happening around you, but it’s important to find your inspiration and your beautiful place in life.”
The record, produced by Shakespeares counterpart Aaron Krause, is an enchanted glimpse into Merry Ellen’s sun-dappled mind, a veritable Eden of lush emerald canopies and richly tinted florets in which her music becomes the soundtrack to a verdant dream like delicate chimes floating on the billows of perfumed zephyrs. Among the high points of Firefly Garden lie the colorful, saccharine lyrics of “Candy,” which are a cleverly draped disguise for a faintly melancholy word on chimeras and the hope and sorrow they arouse; the muted, jazzy, rhythmic tune “Do You?” that channels a Pieces-of-You-era Jewel or even a dusky Corinne Bailey Rae; the exquisite “Masquerade,” an intricate, tortured tribute to Romeo and Juliet that features a rolling, minor piano and a heavy, fragile despair; and “Clair de Lune,” a lovely, diaphanous interpretation of Debussy’s famous melody complete with Merry Ellen’s own lyrics, that swells and ebbs like salty tides breaking lazily on gleaming white sand, a performance both deeply felt and lavishly played.
“I feel like everything that happens in your life kind of goes into your songs. It’s something that becomes part of your music. Who you are is your music.” Becoming so helplessly entwined with one’s music is a silent commitment to see the world through different eyes, an unalterable promise to commit one’s life to the glorious immortal verse. That poetry is what sight would be to the blind, speech to the dumb, walking to the crippled, and life to the condemned, but Merry Ellen Kirk sees, speaks, walks, lives, and she has poetry.