Elles Bailey – Ain’t Nothing But: Album Review

Welcome CD release of lockdown livestream from Bristol songstress, Elles Bailey.

Release Date:  11th December 2020

Label: Independent Release

Formats: CD (order here)

As the year 2020 got itself into gear, things were looking really good for Bristol based UK Americana chanteuse Elles Bailey.  Her song Little Piece Of Heaven had picked up the UK Song of The Year Award at the UK Americana Awards followed with the accolade of Artist of the Year at the UK Blues Awards.  Nothing could possibly go wrong.  But then along came COVID and its attendant, enforced constraints on human contact, including live music gatherings. 

To an artist who thrives on the live arena, lockdown could have been a crippling blow to Elles but, undeterred, she sought to project herself via the virtual stage. It was a move that culminated in an invitation to White Noise Studios in Weston-Super-Mare to perform a set of three livestream shows.  The result of that endeavor is Ain’t Nothing But, her new album of live covers taken from two of the White Noise Shows.

The first seven tracks are taken from Elle’s Request Show for which she invited her followers to, essentially, create her setlist by mailing in requests. Tracks 8-16 comprise a walkthrough of the history of the blues.  It all adds up to an inspired tracklisting, with an excellent mix of the totally familiar and the vaguely familiar, with a few obscure gems thrown in for good measure.  And every song is delivered with a stripped-back arrangement that allows the listener to revel in Elles’ strong, tuneful, slightly smokey voice, Joe Wilkins’ awesome acoustic and electric guitar, Phil King’s guitar and vocal contributions and, for the blues set, the incredible double-bass of Joe James.

We get off to a great start with a version of John Prine’s Remember Everything. One of the few songs in the collection that’s pretty true to the original and a song that gives the first taste of the contribution that Joe Wilkins will be making throughout the album.  That’s followed by an early genuine highlight: a take on the Highwomen’s Crowded Table, a song about family harmony, happiness and loving get-togethers. It’s a theme that surely resonates in these times of isolation.  The version of Elton’s Border Song highlights the song’s Americana influences and Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover brings the song back to its acoustic basics and allows Elles’ crystal, slightly bluesy vocal to be showcased to best effect.  The treatments of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now and John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery are equally pared back and sympathetic to help make both songs genuine album highlights.

The first half of the album is thoroughly enjoyable but, for me, it’s during the blues songs on the second half of the album where things get really interesting.  Joe Wilkins and Joe James really cook, Elles gives the songs every ounce of what she’s got, and the result is quite sublime.  Bonnie Rait’s Love Me Like A Man is gutsy and Nirvana’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night is both sparse and passionate. Incidentally, were you aware that this song is actually an amalgam of two American folk songs from the 1870s: In The Pines and The Longest Train?  I wasn’t either until Elles shared that fact with us.  Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is built around an insistent double bass foundation and When The Levee Breaks bears far more resemblance to the Kansas Joe McCoy original than to the Led Zeppelin remake.

Bobby Blue’s Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City is soulful, with some wonderful three-part harmonies and Elles excels even herself with her vocal on Ben Harper’s No Mercy in This Land. Her restrained, almost folky opening gets progressively more impassioned as the song goes on.  Spoonful returns the song to its Delta Blues roots and the swampy take on Stephen Stills’ For What It’s Worth is exactly how you would imagine Creedence tackling the song.

The two Joes rock out once more on Do Diddley’s You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, and that’s it. At least for now.  Elles – The Woman Who Calls The Road Home – has since played a number of COVID secure gigs and is looking to arrange more, once the December lockdown (or not) arrangements are clearer.  Keep an eye out. On the evidence of what Ain’t Nothing But has to offer, her live show will be well worth the effort.

Watch the video of Crowded Table, recorded live at White Noise Studios here:

Elles Bailey Online: Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ YouTube

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