wed 18/07/2018

CD: Emma Stevens - To My Roots | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Emma Stevens - To My Roots

CD: Emma Stevens - To My Roots

Wanted - more light and shade!

Too much of nothing

What’s not to like about To My Roots, the third album by singer-songwriter Emma Stevens? That’s the problem. Not just her problem, of course, but the problem with so many DIY indie artists who release albums, often crowdfunded (as this was), pick-up download traffic, sell albums off the back of tours, and maybe find a champion on mainstream radio. It's bland. Nothing to dislike but nothing to hook you in. Competent, but not memorable.

Terry Wogan, who championed Eva Cassidy (unexceptional talent, life cut tragically short) and Beth Nielsen Chapman (exemplary singer-songwriter), described Stevens as “just magical” and featured her live on his weekend radio show, which led to wider BBC support. Voilà, a career.

I longed for something slower, perhaps in a minor key

Stevens’ work on banjo, mandolin, ukulele and various sorts of guitar is well to the fore in the Roots mix, but that doesn’t make her a folkie, as some claim. The album may indeed be a tribute to the musicians whose songs filled her childhood – among them James Taylor, Paul Simon, the Corrs and the Dixie Chicks, all of whom do have folk roots – but I'm not sure Stevens is even “sparkly folk pop” as she likes to say. Maybe “sparkly pop folk”.

Stevens began playing as a very small child, encouraged by her parents. Her mother planned the series of four EPs that would eventually comprise Enchanted, her debut album, in two short weeks before her death in 2012. She also created its themed cover artwork, which is striking. It is surely to her mother that she is singing on “Brave”, one of Roots’ slower numbers and one of the album’s high spots, a cello making a welcome addition to the sound world, which also includes some neat steel guitar.   

Languid pedal steel leads us into “Song and Dance” but the country atmosphere quickly dissolves into yet another up-tempo pop number. And they’re basically indistinguishable, one from another, Stevens’ pleasant-enough voice running through oft-repeated tropes and routines. I longed for something slower, perhaps in a minor key, a vocal line counterpointed by simple guitar or piano figurations. “Written in the Stars” shows promise but cops out. “With You” has moments of textural interest but becomes overblown.

Just as all authors need a good editor, To My Roots proves once again that every musician, however talented, needs a creative producer – an objective pair of ears, someone honest enough to say you can do better.


Every musician, however talented, needs a creative producer - an objective pair of ears, someone honest enough to say you can do better


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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A rather jaded reaction Liz. Why would you bother to review an album in a genre that you feel so negative about? Were you having a bad day or is it just not 'cool' to praise an artist for putting out positive message for a change? Put on an Adel album if you want something slower in a minor key, but personally I'd rather listen to 'up-tempo pop' over that any day.

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