Erica Sunshine Lee isn’t the sort of person who backs down from life. The five songs on her newest EP Southern Amendment are vital pages ripped from her life and fly high on the wings of her bluesy voice. Her collaborators are equal partners in the endeavor and fill the EP’s five tracks with unquestioned skill and authenticity. The production captures every nuance of the performance with an eye towards balance and rendering every note in a raw, visceral fashion. This isn’t studied, commercially calculated material – hailing from Georgia ensures that Lee’s attitude isn’t manufactured. She rages, pleads, threatens, and cajoles listeners with every bit as much power as any of the genre’s legendary names and has burgeoning songwriting talents to match.
The opener “Mud on My Boots” promises, on title alone, some kick out the footlights tribute to her Southern upbringing, but she undermines expectations with a blackly comedic tale about cheating leading to murder. It’s a strongly blues influenced romp with atmosphere to spare fueled by snaking slide guitar lines and brief eruptions of full blown rock guitar. “Another Sad Love Song” has a lightly cynical bite tempered by its tangible regret. One of the strengths in Lee’s songwriting is its clear-spoken poetry that plunges deep into emotional waters without ever masking its message in some strained, pseudo-poetic veneer. Lee turns towards ballad territory with the piano-driven “Leaving Atlanta” playing to her aforementioned strengths but expanding on them with a nuanced, profoundly emotive reading of another fine lyric. The drumming is an important piece of the puzzle that manipulates the changes for maximum drama.
“Girls with Guns” takes a decidedly darker turn musically and lyrically than any of the preceding songs. The moody instrumental atmospherics create a sense of menace without ever belaboring it too much. Lee’s vocal about defending herself from any potential attackers has deranged, wide-eyed appeal. The album’s final track, “Drinking and Praying”, takes its songwriting lessons from traditional country and hints at depths in Lee’s craft that earlier tracks scarcely hint about. The band weaves another mournful, blues soaked spell that Lee’s voice slinks through without a single stumble. The lyrical content is quite strong, but her interpretative powers elevate the song from a top shelf, regret-laced country weeper into a cry for repentance. Her phrasing is key to the quality of her singing performance.
Southern Amendment ranks as one of the best tough-nosed honkytonk releases to emerge in recent memory. There isn’t a single note of filler anywhere in these five songs and the added punch they gain from their rock and blues pedigrees surrounds them with surprising firepower. Erica Sunshine Lee isn’t just a pretty face – far from it. These five songs present her as a consummate performer and a songwriting near or at the peak of her creative powers.
9 out of 10 stars.
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