Erica Sunshine Lee – Elixir
Elixir, the follow-up to her last studio album Southern Amendment, is another stellar entry in Erica Sunshine Lee’s growing discography of top flight rock infused country music. The fifteen songs on her latest album veer from raucous country rockers with a bluesy spirit all of the way to spiritually minded songs that brood over her connection to higher powers and His place in her life. Stylishness pervades over both types of songs. The raucous country rockers are never too dumbed down; Lee and her accompanying musicians play those cuts with skill and a generous amount of inspiration considering that the songs aren’t particularly taxing from a technical point of view. Enthusiasm for what you’re playing is irreplaceable. The spiritual songs never beat listeners over the head with their convictions; instead, they come from a much more personal place and have no real agenda beyond communicating the performer’s heart. The album’s overall production gives these songs an excellent presentation that gives Elixir a virtual guarantee to please the hardcore devotees while positioning itself to appeal to a much larger audience.
Elixir starts off on a decidedly commercial, rock oriented note. “Shut Up Heart” and “The Bottle Ain’t Enough” pull from the mainstream in two distinct ways. The first song isn’t nearly as grounded in genre, from a songwriting perspective, thanks to its wont for reaching beyond the confines of the style for its lyrical content and its understated comedic value. The second song, however, has numerous antecedents in country music and Lee turns it into a gritty, high octane track thanks to the electric guitar muscle and powerhouse drumming it makes use of. “My Favorite Word” has similar commercial potential, thanks to its classic balladic elements, but Lee is a performer who never has to pander. There’s no sense of compromise in how she brings together the song’s various elements and the hint of minimalism it maintains gives the song space to breathe in a way that only benefits the performance.
“Medicated” is another of those aforementioned high octane guitar-fueled rockers. Lee gives a credible vocal, spitting out the words and tossing them aside with great relish, and the six string work along with the thundering rhythm section never tries to steal a single sliver of the spotlight from Lee’s singing performance. “Pills and Booze” has some of the same rambunctiousness, but there’s not even a hint of celebrating the lifestyle in this song and Lee’s vocal concentrates, instead, on conveying the heartache that relying on the combination cited in the song title has brought to her life. “Jesus and Georgia” has some restrained climatic points, but this is overall one of the album’s most laid back numbers. The acoustic guitar playing is quite melodic and the song’s percussion provides just the right rhythmic touches. “Briars to Ferns” musically recalls the earlier “My Favorite Word”, but this is much more of a big screen production number and far more cluttered in comparison. The vocal and lyrics are good enough to mask a certain amount of premeditation and overthinking going on with this song.
It ends, however, on a much more relaxed and natural note. “Take the High Road”, based on title alone, could promise a high-handed and cliché ridden statement of character, but Lee’s far too great of a songwriting and performing talent to fall for that particular brand of bathos. It ends Elixir in the right place musically and emotionally. It will likely help seal the deal for most that, seven albums in, Erica Sunshine Lee is reaching her peak as a singer and songwriter.
9 out of 10 stars.