Elles Bailey’s latest album, ‘Shining in the Half Light’, has been forged in the fire of the last few years. It is a record that speaks to the experience and perspective of the independent musician over a particularly turbulent period. There are hints and nods to both Brexit and Covid without ever being explicit about either subject. Feelings of anger, pain and frustration beat palpably through a hard Blues sound and typically-raspy vocals. Yet as the Bristol singer-songwriter notes, “this is an album inspired by those who spread love in a time of heartbreak, happiness in a time of fear & connection in a time of isolation”. There is hope and solidarity to be found in its lyrics, a place where the Gothic and the Gospel intertwine.
Elles has admitted at live gigs that the opening track, ‘Cheats and Liars’, was written in response to the woeful support given to musicians by the Westminster Government during the pandemic. It is the most direct shot at power on the album, its early firing signalling an intention that is sharp, uncompromising and full of emotion. Fans have come to expect nothing less from the UK Blues Artist of the Year, with the darkly-expressive drumbeats, electric guitar and bass billowing a smoke signal that makes it hard for those in glass houses to ignore. And even when they do, the message of third track ‘Stones’ makes clear that “all the while/ the sun shines through…/ the truth’s rising”. Hope springs eternal, as they say. Justice, in the end, will be done.
The rock-heavy edge of the first couple of tracks is tempered by more soulful numbers in the album’s centre. ‘Colours Start to Run’ is a reminiscent combination of the homeliness of ‘Little Piece of Heaven’ and the longing ache of ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’, two songs from her second album, ‘Road I Call Home’. ‘Different Kind of Love’ brings a reflective edge to this section of soft Blues, captured beautifully in moments of simplicity – “lay your head down next to mine/ and we’ll listen to the rain” – and routine – “every day I sing the blues/ every night I say a prayer/ when my troubles weigh me down/ oh you always find me there”. ‘Who’s That’ then adds a drop of darkness back into the mix. Its psalm-like plea for help in troubled times evokes flashes of JP Cooper’s ‘Holy Water’ but with far more spectral qualities. The music haunts the lines delivered by the smoky vocals of Elles such that mystery and uncertainty reign. There is a brooding uneasiness around this track. It’s enough to ask along with her, “Lord tell me who’s that?”
By far the most critically-acclaimed track on the album, if radio play is anything to go by, is ‘Sunshine City’. And it is Elles’ long-time collaborator Joe Wilkins who deserves special mention here. For it is his infectious guitar riff that makes this song such a hit. The groove and rhythm that is produced ensures that this will be a real crowd-pleaser at gigs and festivals alike. Its four-and-half minutes could well go on indefinitely such is the pure joy that emanates from it. ‘Halfway House’ should have its own distinct plaudits too but for different reasons. It is sorrowful yet touching, broken yet undefeated, the final chorus line, to “take it one day at a time”, melting the heart with hope; and pulling it back from the overwhelming brink. It plants a seed of perseverance, the first fruits of which can be glimpsed in ‘Riding Out the Storm’. “I can’t let this refrain be the last” captures perfectly this need to continue in spite of circumstance or situation. It speaks of the grit and determination that mark both her music and her character.
‘Shining in the Half Light’ is an album that further cements Elles Bailey as a musical force to be reckoned with. It deserves to shine far more brightly that its title would suggest.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on February 27th 2022.
Featured Image (C) Elles Bailey/Outlaw Music