Let me get this out of the way: Tawny Ellis can sing. The girl’s got a voice and she controls it well, none of the shrill runs and histrionics that one might expect following the assertion “Tawny Ellis can sing.” She also isn’t wearing a meat dress or a cone bra or otherwise posturing for your attention, and neither is her music. It is tasteful, simple music fit for grown-ups.
The apparent influences on I To You, her latest album are myriad, and honestly I don’t want to condescend (nor do I wish to embarrass myself) by enumerating who and what I think I hear. It’s irrelevant. We’re all the sum of our influences, and we all hope to make something new out of those bits and pieces.
And I won’t pretend to know what Ellis and her partner, Giovanni Loria, had in mind when writing the songs that comprise I To You. At first glance it appears to be a straightforward alt-countryish collection of breakup songs, and in that context the album works quite well. “What can I do to erase you?” she asks, on “Erase You” adding “not that I want to.” It’s a beautiful sentiment backed by a wonderful, simple string arrangement, and by “simple” I mean “playing on the porch with my family” simple. “Handmade music” simple — no Pro Tools or other studio nonsense allowed.
If I were in the throes of post-relationship depression I’d latch onto that track for dear life while taking the advice of the album’s next cut, “Tonight I Drink Whiskey.” No doubt about it: If you’re looking for a good wallow you’ll find it here.
But I To You throws us a curveball in the late innings with “Dear Muse,” an open letter to, well, to the speaker’s muse. What is a self referential cut about making art doing in the middle of a cycle of breakup/relationship songs? I must have listened to the album sequentially twenty times trying to crack that safe, and when the last tumbler fell into place the album took on a second life that wasn’t apparent while I was staring into my shot glass.
I To You, both the song and the album, opens with the lines “Coward trudging along, a secret way down in my bones.” Isn’t that how everyone who makes art feels? We’re putting one foot in front of the other daily, but we’re scared out of our minds. And though we’re trying to connect sometimes that “secret way down in our bones” is just a bit too much to expose. The album works not only as a collection of relationship songs, but as an artist battling with her creative herself, her muse.
Without hearing a note, consider the following song titles as if they were chapter titles in a novel:
- I To You
- Erase You
- Tonight I Drink Whiskey
- I’m Alive
- She Stays
- One More Cup of Coffee
- Why Can’t I Be Her
- Dear Muse
- All My Life
- I Don’t Want To Fight
Whether you were hoping for a book about a breakup or an artist battling with her creative muse, those are chapters that are going to bring the goods.
Good work leaves room for the reader/listener/viewer to bring his or her own experience to the proceedings. That’s what going on here, without question. I’m not a beautiful woman with an Emmylou Harris-purty voice, I’m a nerdy middle-aged bald guy who can’t carry a tune and struggles to string two coherent sentences together. But what Tawny Ellis has done on I To You is given me room to crawl around inside her songs as if they were meant for me.
Enough. I can’t say anything here that isn’t much better understood by simply listening for yourself. I To You is available at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/TawnyEllis and http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/i-to-you/id467960576?ign-mpt=uo%3D4.
Looking for more info? Visit the lovely Ms. Ellis’s page here: http://www.TawnyEllis.com.