After seeing Nanci Griffith in concert years ago Emily Scott Robinson wrote her first song and began dreaming of a music career. After many years of hard work she signed to John Prine’s label ‘Oh Boy Records’, releasing this new album ‘American Siren’.
The album begins with ‘Old Gods’, showcasing her sweet airy voice and classic folk songwriting. Harmonies add to the rich, warm textures of her music. Many wish they could sing this beautifully but few actually have the talent to achieve the sound.
Other songs use classic country references include the lovely ‘Things You Learn the Hard Way’ with some shared life lessons, some of which were generated from a Facebook post. Lori McKenna is another reference point for her style of songwriting, which centres character’s life experiences over the overtly confessional lyrics. You can also see her having fun with creating characters on the cheating song ‘If Trouble Comes A Lookin’.
Let Em Burn is a piano ballad, which tells the desolate story of a mother’s breakdown. This song has admirable ambition and emotional weight. However my only criticism of this album relates to the moments on this song where she tries to push her voice to go for some big Brandi Carlile vocal heights. Sometimes softer is better.
Her strengths as a vocalist are better showcased on ‘Cheap Seats’ where she contemplates a dream of stardom from the back row of the mother church watching John Prine, hoping one day to emulate her hero and be able to put down her tip jap for music rather than waitressing. I did read that she’s a social worker rather than a waitress so maybe this is another one where she takes on a different narrative perspective than the strictly personal. It’s a familiar story but she sings it with an endearing honesty and hopefulness.
Hometown Hero is a simple lament for a lost soldier, sung with empathy for his experience. Faith is another central concern of the album and on songs like ‘Lost Woman’s Prayer’ and ‘Every Day In Faith’ she sings with a purity of spirit that feels like a miracle in itself. Lightning in a Bottle takes us back down the path of her personal history, with a thoughtful contemplation of identity. She finishes with a hoedown style celebration of her North Carolina heritage on ‘Old North State’.
‘American Siren’ is a really lovely listen, from a songwriter of compassion and quiet confidence. Emily will be playing Celtic Connections next year and other U.K. dates, omicron permitting. Here’s hoping everything works out since an artist as good as this one needs to be heard far and wide.