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Emily Wells - Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks

Beautiful Sleepyhead
and the Laughing Yaks

Emily Wells

Available from Emily Wells' web site.

A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Frank Gutch Jr

Emily Wells gives you more music in the first three tracks of Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks than the major labels have given you in the past year. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit because this CD is packed with adventurous music. Incredible music. Downright beautiful music, when you hang your preconceived concepts about music at the door. Did I mention adventurous?

Wells brings so many influences to the mixing board it will make your head spin: world, classical, rock, folk, theater, country and all of their subcategories. Throw in jug band just for good measure and the very fringe of Emily Wells begins to form in your head. Where it goes from there is up to you.

The close to dark and sinister kicks off the album, Wells' double-voiced persona at first seeming a bit apathetic yet foreboding until the chorus of Mt. Washington, where an underlying string quartet negates the brooding mood. The simpler folk-slanted 50 Year Love Affair relies on breathy Gileah-like voice (Gileah's The Golden Planes is well worth checking out, by the way) and odd touches like muted, plucked banjo and beautifully crafted chord changes to set its mood. The more upbeat but moody Fountain of Youth refuses to follow the concept of pop music, changing moods and rhythms at every turn. The chorus, utilized only twice, will leave you hungry for more, and what an arrangement! Waltz of the Dearly Beloved follows like an old Marlene Dietrich movie, sounding dated yet refreshing at the same time, classical-oriented gypsy violins carrying the simple waltz into another realm. Back to Gileah with Big Love Lullaby, Wells breathing as much as singing ever so slowly and making it a lullaby in structure if not in lyrical content. A haunting movement comprised of violins, piano, cello and what sounds like muted and plucked guitar, Action's Debut Rendezvous bridges to the next track, Supermarket which in its slow and plodding magnificence is not about a supermarket at all. Wells duels vocally with herself in Tisis Momar to great effect, claiming love but in a chanteuse-like manner. Oh My God I Miss You looks at life from the bottom, a wondering look at God and reality. The interplay between piano and bass could not be better and Wells' voice is spot on. A masterpiece. If you've ever wondered about a laughing yak, it is here as well, a mere electronic spot in the midst of the music. My Tin Car begins innocuously enough, a pleasant and flowing ballad, but Wells has her own agenda and takes it on an outing which leads into orchestral maneuvers, short though they be. "It's all over the news..." she begins on View From a Blind Eye and it seems as if she has leveled out with a touch of New York, New York", but not so. "...another roadside suicide..." she continues and, well, by this time you should be used to it. If this be a tone poem, it is a poem of stark proportions. The duel piano which ends it is straight out of Rosemary's Baby or some other musically demented slice of life. A shockingly normal country-tinged beginning throws you off at the beginning of 1000 Years War until voice meets background. The juxtaposition of glockenspiel and banjo and Wells' intense delivery almost spell rock, if eerie rock. Banjo jumpstarts Dr. Hubris & His Vile of Turpentine, which could be smoothed into a great country song. Of course, that is not Wells' purpose here. Brash with edgy voice, she drives it home, a fine capper and tribute to the laughing yak.

The fact that Wells recorded, mixed and produced this project herself makes it all that much more viable. She lists among instruments used turning pages, metalophones and neighborhood samples, whatever they are, but the music says they were essential. Handled by anyone else, they might have been tossed aside and the album might have watered itself down and lost the creative edge which makes it magic. She gives a big nod to bassist Joey Reina and Sam Halterman and when you hear them, you'll know why.

In the liner notes, it says that you can "Find lyrics and other beautiful things" online at her website. I searched and couldn't find the lyrics (I am computer-illiterate), a bummer because there are places in a couple of songs where I just need to be sure.

Bottom line: This album may not be for everyone, but it is among the best I've heard in some time. Creative, edgy and haunting, it captures something most others do not: real excitement. Emily Wells is an excellent songwriter and beyond. Ditto on performing. For those who can't hear it, I feel pity.

Track List:

  • Mt. Washington
  • 50 Year Love Affair
  • Fountain of Youth
  • Waltz of the Dearly Beloved
  • Big Love Lullaby
  • Action's Debut Rendezvous
  • Supermarket
  • Tisis Momar
  • Oh My God I Miss You
  • The Laughing Yaks
  • My Tin Car
  • View From a Blind Eye
  • 1000 Years War
  • Dr. Hubris & His Vile of Turpentine
Songs composed and published by Emily Wells, © 2006.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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