Miss Erika Davies Part the Sea (self-released)
To borrow a phrase from Portlandia, the dream of the 1890s is alive and well in pop music today. Suspenders, mandolins, folksy sing-along choruses—thanks to the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, what was once old is now the stuff of novelty.
But indie-jazz singer Miss Erika Davies doesn't get caught up in the sonic cobwebs of so many other contemporary roots acts. While she channels the spirit of Billie Holiday with her mesmerizing voice, Davies explores a range of styles and moods on her new EP, Part the Sea.
Recorded and mixed by Gary Hankins, Part the Sea is a loose, low-key affair—it'd go great with eggs benedict and mimosas on a lazy Sunday afternoon. At seven tracks, it has bittersweet acoustic folk ("You & Me," "Lovely Ways"), lighthearted western swing ("Workin'") and even some ska-tinged lounge ("Stay Away"). When Davies isn't accompanied by lounge-y guitar, standup bass and brushed drums, she's lazily strumming a ukulele or plucking out quiet notes on a guitar, as on the divine closing track, "Fragile Voices."
Davies conveys a wonderful mix of emotions throughout, dipping and diving through her melodies with the freewheeling spirit of a hummingbird. As lighthearted as it all may seem, there are moments where happiness blends with sadness: In "You & Me," Davies recalls a storybook romance, only to reveal that the relationship had lapsed: "That old feeling of I think we've met before' / carried us just as far as you walking out the door."
Davies seems most comfortable with acoustic, café-friendly accompaniment, but it doesn't always fit the bill: The rocking "No Delorean" could've used some more muscle to carry its hard-hitting, stopstart riff. Indeed, one of these days I'd love to hear Davies backed by a rock band or a swing ensemble, which could bring out the power in her voice.
All the same, Part the Sea is a refreshing listen in this old-centric music world. Though some elements on the EP are clearly retro, it's all incidental. As Davies sings her heart out, she's just being herself—an approach that transcends time.