Elenowen Bio



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.

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Marie Hines Bio

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

Marie Hines

Supporting The Tide and the Sea

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Marie Hines

Marie Hines is a creator. She cooks dinner, she bakes cupcakes, she’s an avid DIY-er, and true to her Southern charm, she’s not afraid to get down in the dirt if it means cultivating something colorful and fragrant. Drawing inspiration from nature, The Tide and the Sea boasts music that mimics the fine lightness of a summer wind and the rolling current of a cool autumn stream. By broadening her scope and expanding her thematic obsessions, Marie has fallen right into place between Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, an artist as vibrant and smart as she is talented.

Marie nurtured her musical abilities early while growing up in small-town South Carolina: “I started taking classical piano when I was about six. Music was kind of something I developed on my own. I started writing at the age of twelve.” And something struck with a chord with Marie, who moved to Nashville in 2005. “I came to ‘Music City’ to surround myself with people that were better than me. I knew I needed that constant challenge in order to become a greater musician.” Marie found inspiration among fellow songwriters as well as larger acts like Norah Jones and Coldplay, all the while developing her own class of bright, satiny melodies.

Those familiar with Marie’s debut, Worth the Fight, or her follow-up EPs, The Living Room Sessions and HeartCrash, will recognize her characteristic feminine grace, billowing piano refrains, and incandescent strings, but there’s something new and exciting in this collection of love songs. On The Tide and the Sea, Marie’s brush strokes are broader, more confident. Like a bright-eyed bride lifting her gauzy veil for the first time, letting the sun dazzle her and the wind brush her skin, the young singer/songwriter is stepping out and making strides.

“The title comes from the idea of love as a push-and-pull; it’s a tug-of-war type thing; it’s a dance. The tide rises and falls back into the sea, but it always falls back into the sea. Love is not easy, but when you’ve found that one right person, it is constant,” says Marie. “I guess that is maybe how I experience love. It’s comforting and protective, and these songs have that theme in common.”

The Tide and the Sea begins briskly, a crisp breeze fluttering through spring grass, playful and steady. “My Love Will Never Fail You,” the expansive, glittering single, makes confident declarations on the origins of love with lyrics like, “I don’t believe in chance. I think it’s the choice we make, and I choose you for the rest of my days,” its melody expanding into broad, undulating layers of a soaring orchestral spectrum. “In My Arms,” co-written with fellow Nashville songwriter Justin Halpin, is a richly textured, sanguine tune with a spirited rhythm that reminds Marie, “Yes, I’ve had my heart broken, but it’s all washed away when you have this one person.”

The golden, ebullient “Always Been You,” another Justin Halpin co-write, boasts the title lyric – “You be the tide; I’ll be the sea. The rise or fall brings you home to me, brings you home to me. It’s always been you, love.” – and acts as the magnetic, whimsical cornerstone of Marie’s rosy ballads. “Forever Falling for You,” co-written with Justin Tam of Nashville folk band Humming House, is a glowing, ethereal track with lyrics warm and hopeful: “We’ll build a house someday; we’ll build a home in the meantime.” And the lilting, dramatic “Forever Mine,” co-written with Justin Halpin and featuring background vocals by Marie’s new fiancé Ben Ringel of Nashville blues band The Delta Saints, swells and diminishes in arresting, elegant strokes, closing the album with an exultant, richly resonant ballad of halcyon love, repeating the chorus: “Oh my love, my life, always you and I, steady as we rise; be forever mine.”

Marie’s music has seen commercial and critical success with a feature in WalMart’s Valentine’s Day in-store promotional campaign in 2010 and 2011 and the top prizes in the Intel Superstars Competition, the Intel Video Superstars Competition, and the Avon Songwriting Competition. Following the release of Worth the Fight, Marie embarked on a national tour, playing venues like LA’s famous Hotel Café, Nashville’s Bluebird Café, New York’s The Living Room, and cafés, house concerts, and coffeeshops all along the way. In 2012, she was invited to play Toronto’s NXNE Festival.

Marie’s songs have provided background music for hundreds of wedding videos; MTV, iTunes, Hallmark, Delta Airlines, Spotify, and Forever 21 have showcased tracks in various capacities; and the music video for “Perfect Kiss” was featured on CMT Pure.

Merry Ellen Kirk Bio

Supporting Firefly Garden

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Merry Ellen Kirk

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.

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Katie Costello’s “Lamplight” Review

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Katie Costello


February 2011; Tiny Tiny Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Katie Costello is an outrageously cute blonde girl, who just happens to also be a wellspring of blithe melodies and incredibly profound motifs. At the young age of fifteen Katie began to pursue her passion for music and started work on her debut. She self-released Kaleidoscope Machine at just seventeen, and even then, her original sound and old-timey vibe won her songs placements on shows like 90210, One Tree Hill, and Private Practice. When I read a press release comparing Katie’s music to that of A Fine Frenzy, Adele, and Regina Spektor, three of my all-time favorites, I knew I had to get my hands on her newest effort, Lamplight.

What I’ve discovered about the 20-year-old singer/songwriter is that she writes with the wit and phrasing of someone much older, more experienced, but her interpretation is that of youth, playful and rosy. On Lamplight, Costello addresses thematic elements that any teenage girl might be preoccupied with. In her quirky and insightful way, Katie sings about relationships with friends and boyfriends as well as the world around her and the people that populate it, exploring bigger pictures in order to better understand the nature of humanity. Fundamentally, Katie’s songs document the lovely foundations of a young poet’s reflection.

A sophomore album without true low points, Lamplight arcs finely over the course of about 48 minutes. The vibrant, sprightly “Cassette Tape” is an ebullient, roaming autobiography, a buoyant opener. “Ashes Ashes” hovers and wafts gently, wispy harmonies draping the tune like morning dew. Jaunty, electric “No Shelter” struts boldly, sporting the occasional vintage guitar riff and a dynamic beat.

Cool duet “Out Of Our Minds” features Greg Holden, enchanting piano accompaniment, a few sparse and breezy strings, and the bright-eyed words of a dreamer. “Old Owl” is a sleepy ode to the burden of wisdom, reminiscent of an early Ingrid Michaelson tune. “People: A Theory” is another lively melody laden with eccentricities and golden whimsy, a charming brand of songwriting perfected by British singer/songwriter Kate Nash. And “Stranger” feels like a great sigh, quietly closing the album with beauty and contentment, the way Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” swirls and glides into silence.

Katie Costello is an oh-so-refreshing new perspective on the female folk pop scene, and her delicate collection of light, glittering melodies is not to be missed. Lamplight provides an ideal soundtrack as winter frosts melt in the warmth of the sun and spring blossoms push through to the surface at last.

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Adele’s “21” Review

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February 2011; Columbia Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

So, full disclosure: I love Adele. She’s beautiful and sharp and unbelievably talented. The girl won two Grammys for an album that she recorded while still a teenager. “Chasing Pavements” and her debut album 19 led Adele into international recognition as an authentic young voice expressing the bittersweet turbulence of adolescence awakening into adulthood.

But that was then. Sophomore release 21 speaks to new worlds opening at her feet, genre wise, shifting from R&B tinged with jazz to a full-blown amalgamation of blues, pop, and soul while remaining true to the British singer/songwriter’s signature style – that boldly ardent, wrenching voice of hers.

Thematically, 21 addresses a young woman’s mercurial ventures in love, darkly resonating and coolly evocative. The album permits tiny glimpses into the singer’s own heavy heart, forcing us to feel something – to relive ancient heartbreaks, to summon up past wrongs – pleading with us to wade back through our common woes. Adele writes from a more mature place and sings more passionately her own stories.

From the first moments, we hear might and confidence swelling in those lusty alto notes. Single “Rolling in the Deep” is a powerful and magnetic kick off to 21 that has Adele wailing about betrayal: “Think of me in the depths of your despair.” “Rumour Has It” maintains Adele’s robust new sound with sleek harmonies and swanky beats. The yearning, symphonic “Turning Tables” ebbs and surges like a midnight tide, silvery strings sweeping across an arcane melody.

The elegantly bleak imagery of “Set Fire to the Rain” allows the tune to billow and tumble, the music itself calling to mind a reckless downpour. “He Won’t Go” struts musically, recalling 70s-style R&B; Adele’s loose rhythm and casual vocals prove just how easy it is for the young singer/songwriter to croon her way through any heartbreak. “Take It All” blends jazzy piano with gospel flair, Adele’s vocals taking on a brisk quality, exuding chilly poise.

Brassy horns on “I’ll Be Waiting” stir in a dynamic beat that heats up like a fever. The richly dulcet “One and Only” is full-bodied and golden, a tune brimming with sweet, sweet soul. And Adele’s acoustic cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” soothes like a slow, velvety, almost sensual ballad.

Adele’s 21 is her musical and emotional pièce de résistance and therefore should not be taken lightly. Where 19 was a tentative step into the spotlight, 21 is a voluptuous, retro-inspired collection of “look-at-me!” moments. Do not pass this one up.

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The Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” Review

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The Civil Wars

“Barton Hollow”

February 2011; Sensibility Music LLC

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

The Civil Wars have sprouted from the ground like a slender vine, winding slowly at first and then shooting into the sunny mainstream through a series of fortunate accidents. Young duo though they may be, Joy Williams and John Paul White make a remarkable pair. Their dynamics are poised and expressive, and their voices meld exquisitely, as one might have thought only siblings’ might.

The duo’s customary guitar and violin instrumentation is occasionally accompanied by ethereal piano tones that act as lingering sprigs of fresh greenery among the folksy brambles that preoccupy the rest of the album. On the whole, Barton Hollow is a sinuous tribute to centuries past and melodies forgotten, saturated with captivating turns of phrase.

Opener “20 Years” billows and lopes, beginning the album with an almost whimsical guitar lick. “C’est la Mort” is a delicate, pleading tune, the American folk cousin to the tentative, graceful chords of European duo The Swell Season (of Once fame). The Civil Wars’ breakout hit “Poison and Wine” exudes desperation and heartache, wading through the melancholy with one recurring phrase: “Oh, I don’t love you, but I always will.”

“My Father’s Father” trots lightly, beads of sadness clinging to the tune like dew, manifested in an echoing slide guitar. Then, the title track roars in, blazing and flaring like an old-world forest fire; harmonies glow hotly as blistering strings flicker alongside their voices. The album’s lone instrumental, “The Violet Hour,” directly follows “Barton Hollow,” acting as water splashed across the flames, elegant and haunting.

“Girl with the Red Balloon” is a refreshingly minor track, an elegiac tale of love lost and a girl who is “always and never alone.” “Forget Me Not” washes over the listener like a summer rain – warm, gentle, cleansing; the tune is reminiscent of traditional country duets, steady and broad, made modern by a twinkling mandolin.

The Civil Wars can be proud of their extraordinarily rich debut. Barton Hollow musters the beginnings of a long, lovely road, and speaking personally, I’ll “walk miles and miles in my bare feet” if I have to.

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Amos Lee’s “Mission Bell” Review

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Amos Lee

“Mission Bell”

January 2011; Blue Note Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Amos Lee, despite being a musician, a singer, a songwriter, and a performer, is one of those strong, silent types. With his thoroughly unpretentious attitude and totally recognizable voice, Lee floats through the music world with seemingly little effort other than pure and wide-ranging talent. Lee has made a name for himself as a gentle and organic addition to the modern American folk songbook, ranking among fellow songwriting pros Ray LaMontagne, Colin Hay, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and Blue Note label mate Norah Jones.

With his newest release, Lee confirms his ability to mellow out any afternoon and ease any sorrow. Mission Bell is Lee’s fourth album and first since 2008’s Last Days at the Lodge, and this time, Lee has invited everyone from Willie Nelson to Lucinda Williams, Priscila Ahn to Pieta Brown to be guests on the album.

In the past, Lee’s musical style has encompassed folk, soul, and jazz, but Mission Bell branches out further still, exuding traditional country and gospel overtones and exploring nearly religious themes while maintaining his characteristically mild manner and fluently rich melodies.

Highlights of Mission Bell include the subtle, strolling rhythm of “Windows are Rolled Down,” and the quietly radiant “Violin,” featuring Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, that washes over the listener with a warm, salty spray. The shadowy, minor “Out of the Cold” breathes a darker aspect of Lee’s tonality into the album with lyrics like, “Looking at the pictures up on the shelf/He feels a mere shadow of himself/22 years, still he feels so old/It takes a lot of lovin’ comin’ out of the cold.”

The soulful, rumbling “Jesus” is a dense and bluesy electric number that has Lee all but howling as the guitars buzz and the beat swaggers. Acoustically traditional “Cup of Sorrow” belongs in a mossy old whitewashed Baptist church; it drones like a quaint country hymn, complete with sweetly warbling organ, gospel-y chorus, and pleas for wisdom. And “Clear Blue Eyes” with Lucinda Williams is a folksy duet that swoons and wanders forlornly.

Amos Lee’s music drifts into a room the way a summer sun streams through a leafy canopy, light and golden and softly diffused. His melodies are understated and supple, soothing the listener and dusting off sounds of simpler days. Despite the slight diversion from what we’ve come to expect from Amos Lee, Mission Bell is a solid collection for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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