Muscle Shoals – Eileen Rose (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m not familiar with Eileen Rose’s music, the Boston native is something of a mainstay among Americana’s who’s-who having recorded her breakthrough album in 2000, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard one of her records.

Impressively, it’s a double album that features one album of new, original songs and a second album of her favourite tracks from her own catalogue but rerecorded in the surroundings of Alabama’s Muscle Shoals. So it plays out like a Greatest Hits album but with the added new material. The upside of this is the whole album is new to me, so I get to hear the best stuff from the past but also the new stuff.

Fans of Eileen Rose will no doubt be salivating at the thought of this bonus package, and the thought of a strong singer songwriter recording at such a famous studio should bring about a bounty of riches, but I’ve heard it a few times and I’m still struggling to jump on board.

Now obviously this all comes down to taste, one man’s steak and fries is another man’s mushroom risotto so I’m not about to say this is a terrible album (which of course it isn’t!) but I will argue that although the songs are good, the arrangements and production could be so much better.

What’s this? – I hear you cry in anger and astonishment – someone is suggesting the weak link on an album recorded at Muscle Shoals is Muscle Shoals??

Well, yes. Track one, ‘She’s Gone’ is so overpowered by the raw vocal of Eileen Rose, that all other ingredients take a step back, the songs that have a nice punch and groove to them like ‘He’s So Red’, ‘Get Up’ and ‘A Little Too Loud’ sound messy, they sound as if they need a little more smoothing around the edges. It feels disjointed as if the vocal and music was recorded separately with neither taking energy from the other. ‘On Shady Hill’ is a good old fashioned rock n roll song that benefits from the recording style and has a quality about it that harks back to Sun Studio’s and the golden age of small recording studios that recorded and pressed 7” vinyl discs.

Eileen Rose has a strong voice, it’s clear, powerful and she has a way of selling a song that pulls you in and carries you along for the ride but with the power comes the need for control. A strong voice is like a small man with a broad sword, it can be unwieldy and difficult to control, so extra care is needed when in the environment of the studio, on ‘Hush, Shhh’ and ‘The Old Triangle’ the voice overrides everything and she leaves the melody on occasion. Obviously these are her songs, she can sing them however she likes and a great songwriter writes for their particular voice so I’m no going to say she sounds bad or anything like that, actually it’s quite the opposite, I imagine live her voice is powerful and reinforces the songs and is probably the reason she has such a following but here, it sometimes feels off.

For all I know, I’m stating the obvious and pointing out the very reasons why people like her music, I once heard someone describe Iron Maiden as “a bit loud”, so, like I said, this is the first experience I’ve had with Eileen Rose – and there isn’t enough to put me off coming back – but considering the level of song writing, the talent of the band and the surroundings for the recording, I think it’s a missed opportunity.

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