Supporting For the Taking
By Emily J Ramey
Written for Elenowen
There’s something so liberating about the deliberate letting go of others’ expectations to press on in a direction of your own choosing. Husband and wife singer/songwriters Josh and Nicole Johnson have lit upon their common voice after acute introspection, roads traveled, trials overcome, years lived. Resonating within themes of finding themselves in each other and the infinite possibilities of what’s ahead, Elenowen’s sophomore full-length For the Taking is a collection of modern songs keeping an indie tradition alive.
Those familiar with Elenowen’s appearance on the inaugural season of NBC’s The Voice, their debut album, Pulling Back the Veil, or their follow-up singles and EP, will recognize their characteristic tender melodies, lyrical motifs, and incandescent acoustic work, but there’s something new and exciting in this assortment of songs, perhaps a result of the overwhelming fan support they received by funding the album with Kickstarter, which served to reassure the young duo about their place in the world. Of their freshly realized niche, Nicole says, “We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it feels like we’re newborns, starting all over again.”
“We’re basically starting from scratch,” Josh agrees. “In a way, this record feels a lot like our first one. The whole tone and the way we’re going about this album are synonymous with our debut. It’s back to just us.”
The music of Elenowen straddles decades by bridging today’s folk rock troubadours with the lo-fi buzzing arrangements of the 70s, their distinctive combination of musical precision and emotional abandon bolstering a collection that alternates between dense, full-bodied rockers and minor, mercurial guitar melodies.
Opener “Desert Days” sets up Elenowen’s fresh Fleetwood Mac-inspired vibe with a driving beat, jangly harmonies, and a refrain written long ago that seems to have foreshadowed their current stride: “Someday we’re going to find the things that we have been looking for.” Balmy, wavering guitar riffs echoing throughout sketch a vital, resolute landscape for the album. “Half A Mile,” which pops a familiar feeling efficiently into a clever combination of words – “When I look at myself, I see lost; you look at me, you see found. That’s all that counts.” – is another first-listen favorite with its country-tinged major tones and heavy-handed reverb.
At the far end of their melodic spectrum, the melancholy, pleading “Place From Where I Fell” channels fellow Nashville duo The Civil Wars, Nicole’s vocals hovering finely above Josh’s minor harmonies, murky instrumentation cresting in an insistent, fluid orchestral tide. And the sparse, vulnerable “One by One” brings to mind the bare vocals and steady symphonic cadence of the musical Once’s duo The Swell Season.
“Losing the Lonely” is the album’s most magnetic track, a shimmering, upbeat ode to open, eager love. The chorus rings, “First thing I see in the morning, first dream I have at night; without a single warning, you got this heart of mine;” Elenowen’s newfound spirit is embodied here between the drum beat and the slide guitar, balanced delicately to create their own bright-eyed brand of retro folk rock.
“Cold Hard Truth” has a raw resilience to it that can only be explained by the unique circumstances under which it was recorded. “I was so winded because I was having contractions,” Nicole explains. “Nine months pregnant and trying to sing, it’s such a sweet memory though, every time I hear that song.” And “For the Taking” was the only track on the album recorded live in one take, a detail that imbues the chorus with a quiet gravity. The closing melody is both gently defiant and refreshingly acoustic, a nod to their past with roots planted confidently in their future.
This is the story of two people that made each other’s music better, two people that fought against their odds for the music they wanted to achieve together. For the Taking is a bold step on a path yet unexplored, but if you ask Elenowen, it’s the one they’ve been working toward all along. ”This is where we’re supposed to be,” Nicole finishes; “I feel really good about it.”
Elenowen’s new release, produced by Music City staples Jeremy Bose and Trent Dabbs, will be available January 20, 2015. For more information about Josh and Nicole and For the Taking, go to http://www.elenowen.com.