Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Eleanor's bold move

A couple of years ago, during a set break at an Underhill Rose performance in a small venue near Hickory, singer Eleanor Underhill and I sat at a table and had a casual little chitchat about writing – she about her music, and myself about the direction of my blogs.

We compared notes. The gist of our discussion centered around becoming a little more edgier. She confided then that she'd gotten some criticism for being "too light" or "too sunny" in her craft, although I'm not sure how edgy you can be while playing smile-inducing instruments like the banjo or the harmonica, both of which I think she is a virtuoso performer.

Eleanor Underhill makes her solo debut at High Rock Outfitters on Friday.*
 Eleanor is also a prolific songwriter and there's no way I could have known then that her unpub-lished catalogue no doubt included tunes that I didn't know about and that would never show up in an Underhill Rose concert, where she performs in the Americana genre with co-founder and friend Molly Rose Reed.

But a door has opened. Molly is in the final trimester of her and her husband Tyler's first child, due in November, and Underhill Rose currently is taking a break from touring.

So the timing is perfect for Eleanor to release her first solo CD, "Navigate the Madness." It's a collection of 12 tunes that she's birthed, tweaked, nourished and refined over time. Some of the songs were written years ago; others are of more current inspiration.

She will be performing Friday night at High Rock Outfitters, starting at 9 p.m., in the Lexington release show of her CD. She had her Asheville (where she lives) release show a couple of weeks ago, featuring five backup musicians. At HRO, she'll have three musicians behind her: Matt Lane on bass; Silas Durocher on guitar, and Chris Pyle on drums.

"I will structure the show a little differently than I did the Asheville show," Eleanor wrote in an email. "We play around here all the time so I felt compelled to do something that was a bit different. At High Rock, we won't be playing the album front to back but instead we'll play about 75 per cent of the songs mixed in with some unpublished originals, Underhill Rose songs that I penned, and fun covers."

This will be a different Eleanor than we know from the harmonies of Underhill Rose. She provided me digital access to her album for review and you can immediately see the artist in her exploring eclectic new avenues of thought and curiosity. The email came with hashtags marked #haunting, #psychedelic, #folksy, #fusion, #baroque-pop, #jazzy. It's all of that, and more.

The email did not come with lyrics or liner notes, so I don't know which musician contributed what, and I'm not always sure of what I heard in the voice tracks, so my review is, admittedly, incomplete. But some of the tunes I liked included "Never Meant to Say Goodbye," "Before I Head West Again," "Captured in Arms," and "You Know I Would." Pay attention.

It's good to see Eleanor step out like this. I don't know if she feels like she's out of her Americana comfort zone or not, but artists are often compelled to follow their muse and take us with them on the journey. Heck, I didn't know the banjo could sound like that. It's bold. It's fun. And, yes, it's edgy.

*Photo by Donnie Roberts

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