Arielle Silver – Watershed: Album Review

Bright, uncomplicated, folk/pop – with a strong lyrical message at every turn.  The fifth album from Californian singer-songwriter Arielle Silver is a sheer delight.

Release Date:  6th October 2023

Label: Self Released

Formats: CD / Digital

A Floridian, transplanted to California, Arielle Silver is a multi-facetted talent.  Not only is she an acclaimed singer-songwriter with a string of four previous albums under her belt – most recently 2020’s A Thousand Tiny Touches – she’s also a Creative Writing Professor at Antioch University, the founder of Bhavana Flow Yoga Studio and she serves as the President of FAR-West (folk Alliance Region West) where she promotes the work of artists, songwriters, producers and more, across traditional, contemporary and multicultural folk music, dance, storytelling and performing arts.

Arielle’s fifth album, Watershed, takes inspiration from each aspect of her professional life and weaves those inspirations into a delightful collection of songs that blend Americana, pop, folk and rockabilly to come up with an album packed with bright, uncomplicated folk/pop tunes and lyrical messages galore.  Inspired equally by the best of Americana/roots and the song writing traditions of Greenwich Village and Laurel Canyon, Watershed is an excellent album.

Arielle has lived around music since before she could even speak.  Her father was a consummate strummer and Arielle was quick to pick up on the power of the plectrum.  She also studied classical clarinet at college before stepping things up a notch or so by busking in Boston’s Harvard Square.  The songs for Watershed largely came about during the enforced isolation of lockdown and were inspired to a great extent by the stoicism of the people in her LA neighborhood who did whatever it took to brighten up those dark days and night – as Arielle explains: “The decade began in the cataclysm of global health and economic crises, national political catastrophes and racial justice marches.  Families and friend groups fractured in discord.  But, in my Los Angeles neighborhood, in spring of 2020, I watched the holiday lights go back up.  Folks projected movies on the sides of their homes for the neighbors.  People were doing what they could to shine some light on the darkest of times.” 

And that mood; that determination to come through the worst – and be better for the experience – is something that pervades throughout Watershed.  Although the album tackles such potentially thorny subjects as racial tension, lost opportunity and even Armageddon, the messages are invariably positive.  Watershed is an album that offers solutions.

Musically, all is set fair.  Producer Shane Alexander has enlisted the services of a core band of accomplished musicians – Darby Orr on bass and keyboards, Jesse Siebenberg on slide and steel guitars, Denny Weston Jr on drums and percussion, Rob Hodges on cello and Justine Bennett on backing vocals.  They make a great sound together without offering any serious distraction to the album’s central feature – Arielle’s beautiful, versatile and commanding vocals.

Arielle Silver
Picture: Anabel DFlux

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and “the history of folk and rock music in calls for change,” opening track Soft on the Shoulder gets Watershed off to a bright and blistering start.  There are jangling guitars a-plenty and Arielle’s voice is sparklingly engaging.  “It’s about giving space to listen to others’ points of view,” explains Arielle.  “This song repeats the mantra ‘love more, fear less’ and reminds me to do what I can to help heal wounds in our society.”

On the first of three singles to have (so far) been taken from Watershed, the lyrics to Bramble Vine were inspired when Arielle made a fruit pie for her stepdaughter’s birthday.  Arielle uses the metaphors of prickly brambles and pie-preparation to better understand a range of life’s tribulations – “Some kind of love is like that – sweetness buried in a thorny patch” is a great example, and it’s a cracking tune as well!

Described as “A flirty homage to music and discovery,” current single Rickie Lee is a tasty chunk of authentic rockabilly.  Jesse’s slide guitar licks are the perfect dressing, and Justine’s backing vocals are subtle, yet irresistible.  The guitars and piano combine wonderfully in the instrumental break and this is a song that will, without doubt, become a live show favourite – if it isn’t one already.  And Ghost Ship – the third of the album’s three singles is just as good!  It’s a song with a nostalgic feel – hugely enhanced by Rob Hodges’ cello parts – and, with lines like “Sailing on ghost ships, out to sea on ghost ships, things we never did…” the song’s lyrics offer a potent reminder to all to Seize the Moment whenever opportunities arise.

The prospect of future catastrophe is pushed firmly to one side in the sharp, rocky Asteroids and Chaos.  Arielle’s voice soars high above the keyboards and backing harmonies as she asserts her conviction that love and companionship (and – maybe – a healthy dose of groundless optimism) can avert the most severe of tragedies – like the collision of a rogue asteroid with our planet, for example.  The tender Worth waiting For grows from a contemplative folk song into a grand ballad as the strings find their pace, before things are pared right back to basics for the lovely Miracle.  It’s a song that you could almost imagine flowing from the pen of Joni Mitchell and Arielle does it full justice with what is, just possibly, her best vocal performance on the album.

Clipped Wings is a breezy rocker with a bit of a Cajun feel, which leads into the evocative Riverdock at Sunset, another of the album’s numerous highlights.  It’s another song that revives the spirit of Joni; Jesse’s steel guitar parts are delightful and Arielle’s vocals are wistful and pleading.  And it’s always fun when an artist slips the title of the album into a line of a song, as Arielle does here, as she sings: “There’s a difference between keeping something safe and helping it to grow – moments like the wave of the Watershed on the riverdock at sunset.”

And finally… With its focus upon small details and intimate impressions, closing track Bottle Up Tonight is the perfect, peaceful, satisfying coda to this wonderfully enjoyable album.  It’s a song that Arielle fully intended would crystalise the album’s essential message.  As she explains: “I came to this side of the turbulent pandemic time writing about peace, love and understanding.  In many ways, the songs are about appreciating the here and now.”  And, what better way to articulate that sentiment than with lines like: “Forget all that we can’t control – let’s bottle up tonight?” Breathtaking.

Watch the official video to Rickie Lee from Arielle Silver – the third and current single from the album – here:

Arielle Silver: Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube / Bandcamp

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