Don’t let anybody try to convince you that it is not easy to find great new music in this era of social media, genre-specific satellite radio stations, and streaming services. Here at Team GDW, we have certainly discovered MANY wonderful new acts thanks to Twitter, Bandcamp, SiriusXM and so forth. Yet sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we occasionally forget to follow up with some of the strongly recommended artists that create a buzz across the social networks. I recall seeing many compliments made to rising Nova Scotian Erin Costelo just a few years ago from some of our favorite artists, and shame on me for not taking the time to find out why. Set to release “Sweet Marie,” her fifth studio album on October 19th, am I ever kicking myself for jumping onto this particular music train so late into the game.
Devoting the last few days to all ten tracks on “Sweet Marie,” I am sure that the resulting goosebumps I experience upon each listen pretty much say it all. I had heard the buzz about the quality of her vocal range, but only now discovered for myself just how blessed Erin Costelo is with her singing voice. Loosely defined as ‘Americana’ music, it only takes one spin of this album to appreciate the smooth soul sounds and light jazz moods that are offered too, and should easily satisfy fans of such genres. With “Sweet Marie,” Erin looks at a world and industry that pushed her to the edge of ending her musical career, and is now ready to push right back.
Drawing her musical inspirations from the likes of Randy Newman and Nina Simone, and adding the grit of Molly Johnson and Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes), “Sweet Marie” is not only a genre-defying album, but one that places Costelo firmly among such established and highly respected contemporaries. With an added nod to such peers, Erin shares an incredibly moving rendition of the Randy Newman classic, “I’ll Be Home,” to close out the album.
Self-produced and recorded in just 10 days in Little Harbour, NS, Erin drafted a stellar team of musicians to join her on this album. Notable names such as Nova Scotia’s musician of the year nominee Leith Fleming-Smith (keyboards), Anna Ruddick (bass), and Glenn Milchem (percussion) team up here with both Costelo and her long-time partner Clive MacNutt (guitar). Together, this all-star ensemble bring their unique sounds and skills to perfectly complement Erin’s lyrical prowess, heightened furthermore with the addition of some sweet horns across a handful of tracks too. Wonderful lyrics, amazing vocals, phenomenal musicianship; enough hallmarks to consider “Sweet Marie” as an instant modern-day classic? I invite anybody to sample this timeless sound and try to convince me otherwise of my own personal convictions.
“Lights Down Low” is the first single to be released, which definitely demonstrates the Randy Newman influences in terms of style and delivery. “I wanted this song to feel like floating,” offers Costelo. “An out of body experience. It is about being able to turn your brain off at the end of the day … I wondered what it would feel like if you could put your brain next to you in bed and leave it for the night.” Looking for something completely different? Go ahead and skip to “All In Your Head,” with both Fleming-Smith’s keys and MacNutt’s riffs providing a distinct retro soul beat. Costelo demonstrates her mastery of pure soul music here, and I for one appreciated the well-placed and simply outstanding brass instrumentation down the stretch.
As equally impressive is the following track, “Hands On Fire,” trading the soul vibe for an incredibly smooth jazz sound, whisking the listener away to a late-hours underground jazz lounge where this particular vocalist easily rivals other modern jazz icons. By the time we hit the chorus, the retro soul vibe returns once more to seamlessly fuse both genres together. Having connected the dots between soul and jazz, if there is one track on “Sweet Marie” that marries both so perfectly, it has to be “Shadow.” Both Glenn and Clive set an atmospheric tone, before Anna’s bass grooves provide Erin with her vocal cues. And lest you think that Leith is taking it easy here, just wait until you hit the 1:30 mark, and those keyboards will explode. With hints of a little Gnarls Barkley, some Alabama Shakes, and a healthy splash of Molly Johnson, the low-end guitar twang courtesy of Clive really plays off well against the otherwise smooth soul beat.
“Sweet Marie” is an impressive new release from Erin Costelo, and leaves me hungry to discover more of her musical back catalog. Whether dazzling with her powerful vocal range on the tracks mentioned here, or slowing the pace to a minimum as with “Epilogue” and “Topic Of Notes,” Erin easily demanded (and received) my attention across all ten tracks here. “Sweet Marie” shall be formally released this Friday at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto, before Erin hits the road to bring this fantastic new material to a town near you. Highly recommended (so don’t be a laggard like me, and wait a couple of years before finding out too – go buy it or see her live NOW – and thank me later).