Album Review: Emma-Lee - Backseat Heroine

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Someone is smiling down on Emma-Lee. The Toronto singer-songwriter has recovered from two vocal cord operations since 2006, yet her voice remains unhindered. In an age where pop-soul songstress Adele wins big at the Grammys, Emma-Lee fits right in. This may be her sophomore full-length but her dynamic with collaborators suggests a friendly level of professionalism. In spite of its heavyhearted inspirations, Emma-Lee's Backseat Heroine sounds downright triumphant.

The album is primarily comprised of pop compositions fleshing out folk, soul and rock song structures. The Leslie Feist comparisons and jazz-influenced numbers remain in the past with her 2008 album, Never Just a Dream. With this growth, there is a sense of uninhibited dignity.

Folk songs "Not Coming By" and "Shadow of a Ghost" are given strength through their soaring choruses. Even in their calmest moments, they have energy. However, the album's soulful endeavors are by far the most impressive. "Phoenix" is an aptly-titled anthem of anger as beauty. "You don't scare me, I'm better off without a deadweight deadbeat," sings Emma-Lee. "You won't get to see the kids but you will regret this."

Meanwhile, "Figure It Out" is a fun, Motown-inspired and upbeat ultimatum. The track was written with co-producer and fellow songwriter Karen Kosowski. The duo makes it sound like an absolute blast to have recorded. Its charm is channeled through playful back-up vocals, celebratory slide-guitar and hyperactive tambourine accompaniment.

Regardless of the name of the album sleeve, Backseat Heroine is ironically a group effort. Five of the eleven songs were written with collaborators who successfully allowed the artist to shine. The liner notes are enriched with guest songwriters. From New Jersey's Nicole Atkins to fellow Canadians Luke Doucet, Jill Barber and Kosowski, there's no shortage of cooks in the kitchen. For the most part, they concoct effective pop songs.

Barber co-wrote the album's softest song, "I Could Live With Dying Tonight". It's a simple piano lullaby accompanied with gentle strings and the softest vocals on the disc. It works wonders as a closing number. Whereas "Today's Another Yesterday", an alt-folk duet with Luke Doucet, feels out-of-place. "Hey girl, why don't you smile?" sings Doucet. "You still have all of your teeth." While neither gives a bad performance, there is a lack of chemistry. Elsewhere, the subtle contributions of Nicole Atkins make a much larger impact. Through her melodic input, Emma-Lee composed the album's title track. In a culmination of sweeping strings, soaring vocals and reverberated slide guitar, a signature sound is born.

Just as her voice commands control of every song; Emma-Lee is the driving force behind Backseat Heroine. Given her current direction, she'll have plenty to celebrate in the coming years.

Tags: Emma-Lee, Backseat Heroine, Toronto, Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Soul, Luke Doucet, Nicole Atkins, Karen Kosowski, Jill Barber

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