Occasionally I’m approached by an artist directly to do a review, but only rarely do I listen to the first 10 seconds of a song and immediately say I’ll review a CD.
In mid-August, Erika Chambers dropped me an e-mail and asked me to take a listen to her new album light at eventide. What she actually said, which peaked my curiosity, was that if I liked Crooked Still (and I love them), I just might like her album. She was right. I know it’s cliche, but in this case I’m convinced that she has a voice like an angel.
She describes herself as an indie Americana artist out of Nashville, whose songs are always private and personal, written in the quiet of her mind. Inspiration comes from hymns, mountain songs, family, people she meets, a news story, or the experience of her own life. In her bio on her website she writes that her songs aren’t fancy – recorded wherever she can find equipment and time. And quite honestly, I think that gives her music a “real” quality that’s sometimes tough to find in soundproofed professional studios.
It’s obvious that she has numerous folks in her corner. She days – “Often, I paid my producer by taking him out for Mexican food. He literally worked for beans.” But I think all the support from family, friends, fellow vocalists and instrumentalists has paid off. Though it took Erika nearly four years to complete light at eventide, there are some simply stunning songs on it that she and all of her collaborators should be proud of.
As I said earlier on, I was captured by the first few seconds of the first song on the album – “freedom song/birmingham” – which deals with some of the darker history and violence of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It opens with her voice singing gospel-style, which simply gives me chills every time I hear it. “I stand on ashes where once there stood a home / here lived my family but now I stand alone / you told my papa to move us out of town / but he was a stubborn man who always stood his ground…” The rise and fall of her voice tells me she believes in what she’s singing as she tells the story of a woman who forgives the man who killed her family. And that’s just the start of the album. Powerful music, amazing voice, and a story that evokes raw emotion is a great way to kick things off.
“Footprints” is another song that left a mark on me. Telling the story of a family stuck in the snow in Colorado and the brave act of a husband and father trying to save them. And though he didn’t make it to get help, his footprints led searchers back to where the family was and they were saved. “My true love did what only true love does / my children know the man their daddy was / and I pray someday my sons will choose to step into their fathers’ shoes / and they may stumble and they may fall / but his footprints will deliver us…”
The arrangement for “footprints” takes a powerful tale and pairs it with electric guitars, a driving beat like deliberate footsteps in the snow, and some harmonies that simply have to be heard to believe. There’s a power there that builds like the power that builds each time a tale of heroism is told, kicking this tune into overdrive. Erika is joined by Blue Mother Tupelo on this track, which adds layers of experience to the tale and her own expressive voice.
The last song of the eleven tracks is “light at eventide”, which features Eric Paslay in a duet. Talk about quiet power. A single guitar with a simple melody meets a string bass, a drum beat, and strong harmonies that never once threaten to overwhelm the message of the song. And the words… “twilight sun through the trees / bowing low on its knees / diamond stars one by one cease to hide / burdens weigh on my breast / I will lay them now to rest here in the light at eventide…” It’s a prayer to know she’s not alone. “Chase the shadow from my soul / fill the sky with rays of hope / so I know I’m not alone…”
I’m not a religious person, but there’s a purity of spirit that echoes through these songs telling stories with hope. We all can probably use a bit more of that in our lives.
But don’t let me steer you wrong here. The rest of the album is amazing as well merging bluegrass, hymns, folk, and blues in ways you might find surprising. There’s humor, hope, and humility here in the rhythms, melodies, and words. In some ways, her talents remind me of Eva Cassidy – as though she has an old soul and can use her connection to that to tell stories that transcend her own experience.
For a sampling of some of her tunes, check this out:
I definitely encourage you to check out light at eventide when you get a chance. It’s an amazing album I’ll be listening to while I wait to see what else Erika can throw at us next. Give her a listen at the album’s website where you can stream it for free and check out her website at ErikaChambers.com.
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