‘Heart on Hand’ (E.P.) & ‘Once’ (Single)
9.5/10 & 9.5/10
You can tell from the E.P.’s cover, that it is going to be mesmeric.
Availability: E.P. is available via https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/heart-on-hand-ep/id567453391. The single ‘Once’ will be released in April.
Gorgeous music; beautiful words; exceptional talent and an extremely striking young woman…
make for quite an extraordinary listen. Emma Stevens far exceeds any expectations. There is a bit of a split between female musical talent. There is the mainstream, which has a vast mixture of average pop fodder where you can delineate the moment their talent runs out and they are running on fumes. There is a smaller core of artists, such as Adele, Jessie Ware, Laura Marling and their ilk, whom have vast credibility and talent. Then there is miss Stevens. Here is a very young artist, who is her own words writes “haunting folk/pop with a twist and lots of sparkle”. She is a graduate of A.C.M, plays six instruments- including the cello- and is honest, beautiful and down-to-Earth. She tours prodigiously, and has an incredibly hardworking ethic.
‘Heart on Hand’ comes with a slightly sad back-story. The cover of the E.P. is a gorgeous design by Emma’s mother, who sadly died last year. The E.P. was released in October of last year, and her artwork is a permanent monument to her work and spirit. A song that is to be released shortly called ‘Dreaming Trees’, was written in her memory, and will feature on her upcoming 2nd E.P. I sat down to listen to her first E.P., and realised how brave and honest the music is.
The first thing you hear on ‘A Place Called You’ is a ukulele. It is instantly sunny and warm, and your mind and body are transported to sunny climbs, warm beaches and gorgeous landscapes. Accompanied by a harmonious whistle, the song puts you in a good mood, right from the off. “You’re my knight in shining armour” Emma sings, her voice smiling all the time. It is a much softer Lily Allen; a stronger Ellie Goulding, but purer and more beautiful than both. It is confident and manifests a huge range, able to switch from a whispered calm to an emotional and power rush. The song talks about all the guys who have come and never measured. In Emma’s words: “Why kiss another frog?/You’re the only one I want”. Through use of fairy tale metaphor and imagery, our heroine is aloft in a tower, waiting for our hero to rescue her. It is not mournful or downcast; instead multicoloured and joyous, where the message above it all is that she wants the man she really wants and not pretenders. “I’ve been cooped up in a tower/For hours and hours” gives the impression of longing and desire. There is a little hint of Eliza Doolittle, and Laura Marling, and Emma shows an eidetic musical talent, where she can draw instruments and sounds together to produce a luminous soundscape. Towards the 3 minute mark the pace quickens, and the vocal scats and skips and dances, showing shades of ‘Whoa Nelly!’-era Nelly Furtado in the upper registers. The song is the psychoacoustical embodiment of ‘be the change that you want to see in the world’ With a final chorus of whistling, percussion and ukulele, the sun sets, and we wonder whether our princess will ever kiss her prince.
With a slightly darker start, of guitar and percussion, ‘This Is For You’ doesn’t have a heavy heart, but tells of rain-lashed scenes where anyone can shelter from and meet the person of their dreams. The song has a more philosophical edge, and the lyrics are more in my focus this time; especially when Emma sings: “And I wish/I could help you to breathe”. As the chorus arrives, heralding a siren’s chorus and sensual breathlessness to it, I can’t help but wonder whether the subject of the song has a personal relevance. There are shades of Cocteau Twins in the vocals, as well as Gemma Hayes. The acoustic guitar and musical structure puts me in mind of Simon and Garfunkel and Ben Howard. It is gentle and sensitive but has light and hope to it. As the chorus repeats, there is a gorgeous acoustic guitar strum that puts me in mind of ‘Toxic Girl’ by Kings of Convenience. For those that can’t smile or feel happy, and are weighed down by the gravity of life, then this song is for them. It is there to cheer and to say that, no matter what, things can change when you least expect and a bad situation can be instantly made good. At just a little over 3 minutes long, it is the shortest song of the E.P. and leaves you wanting more. It is incredibly tight, as well as being memorable and spirit-lifting.
With an intro that has shades of country to it, as well as Bob Dylan, ‘How To Write A Love Song’, also nods to contemporary acts such as The Lumineers. The track begins by telling of a former beau, who, much to our heroine’s chagrin, kept asking “Hey, when you gonna write me that love song?”. Ironically for him, it is when he has walked out and taken the best from our protagonist, that the words came. The disgraced ex-sweetheart cheated and became needy, and through all of his actions, he taught Emma how to write a love song. It is a great title for a song, and a clever devise is employed. In a sense I guess it does have a large country influence. There are elements of The Dixie Chicks, and Taylor Swift, but will appeal much more to a wider audience, due to the touching and striking lyrics, and gorgeous vocal performance at its heart. Emma, in a way is trying to expurgate the sinner, because “Trying to find a melody/Is easy now you’re gone”. The track has a great, memorable and catchy chorus, and in spite of the fact that pain has been caused and there is an air of regret, there is no sad mood. The song has a sweetness to it. It is a gorgeously crafted song, with brilliant imagery and evocative spirit.
With a skipping heartbeat and its best clothes on, ‘The Simple Things’ is another bright and breezy number, designed to inspire the soul and put a smile on the stoniest of people. In a way it is similar to a Jack Johnson song. I was transported the sun, sea and sand and is a blissful number. Emma can’t stop smiling, and says that that is “all I need right now”. There is calm in her heart and the simple things are most important. It is a great and simple message and another track that will put a spring in your step, and smile on your face. Emma’s voice is luscious and strong throughout once more, and is full of conviction and passion. It is one of the highlights of the E.P. and shows what a range Emma has.
The final track is a pared-back piano version of ‘A Place Called You’. It has been stripped down and given a romantic and passionate. It is a remarkable version and the vocal is tender and tremulous. The piano is soft and warm and will bring a small tear to your eye. It is hard to believe that it is the same song, but shows the talent and interpretive skills Emma has that it works so well, and makes her own material brand new once more. It is a wonderful end to an assured, multifaceted and impressive E.P. It hits its stride with music, lyrics and vocals and tone. Emma is a skilled composer and exceptional musician, and has a maturity and lyrical eye that belies one so young. Her voice is brilliant throughout and shows herself as an awesome talent.
‘Once’ is being released in April. From the first few seconds, it is good business as usual. All of the key ingredients are in place. It is warm, embracing and sunny and is going to feature on the upcoming E.P. It is dreamy and uplifting and talks about how you only need to fall in love once, and that’s all it takes. She explained that she has been with guys before who seemed like they would be the one, but have gone: “But don’t forget when things are great/You only need to find love once”. There is a tangible and universal message conveyed in the song, and one that we can all relate to, which gives the song a winning edge straight away. Again there is a bit of a country flavour, together with an infectious musical and vocal blend, that makes you want to get up and sing along. It will appeal to a wide audience and is a tantalizing and intriguing sign as to what ‘Dreaming Trees’ will sound like.
Emma is going to be on Terry Wogan’s radio show this Sunday, and is going to be very busy indeed. If you haven’t already heard her debut E.P., then you should and learn from it. With a music scene where most of the participants would rather frown than smile, Stevens is a breathe of fresh air and shows a talent and maturity beyond her years. It is wonderful to see someone so talented make such an impression, but the great thing about music, is when this sort of thing happens, it inspires you to write, sing and perform. This is exactly what has happened to me, and you cannot ask for more than that. So, if you are stressed, lost, in need of direction and inspiration…
… listen to Emma Stevens, and make yourself happy.
Key Track: ‘A Place Called You’.