New York City’s Emily Duff is a melting pot of musical styles, just like the streets she’s called home from the day she was born. She’s absorbed the unique flavors of country, roots, soul, R&B and rock music and served it up as a full course meal on her newest release Born On The Ground, set for release June 26. The lead single and video, “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” premieres here today on American Songwriter.
“We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is a straight-ahead mid-tempo rocker with a straight-ahead kiss off to a relationship gone bad.
Duff’s confident vocal delivery carries years of ‘been there before’ experience in being able to confidently state her opening salvo: “Bad ideas just pour from your mouth/Baby shut your hole and don’t let them out.” She’s coming from a point of view of strength, she told American Songwriter. “It’s outlaw all the way. Independence, Confidence & Resolve. This woman is gonna be fine!”
Punctuated by Charlie Giordano’s soul-influenced keyboard work, Scott Aldrich’s steady as she goes rhythm guitar and Eric Ambel’s tasty twang guitar licks, Duff lays out her case for stopping a train ride to certain disaster. “You carry too much baggage/Ride the rails like a dare/Honey get off the train/We ain’t goin’ nowhere,” she sings in the song’s chorus. “Train metaphors in songs usually embarrass me but sometimes you just have to give in when it works and kicks ass!”
You can be a born and bred city dweller and still legitimately exude outlaw 24-7. It all depends on how you walk the walk. And Emily Duff lives her life according to her rules. She learned her craft in downtown Manhattan and became immersed in the CBGB’s underground scene, building friendships and honing her lyrical and musical skills.
Eventually, she replaced Jeff Buckley as lead singer for Gary Lucas’ Gods & Monsters and had the honor of opening for Bob Dylan & Paul Simon at Jones Beach Amphitheater with her band, Eudora.
Her debut solo record, Go Tell Your Friends, released in 2015, drew on folk and country acoustic sounds, with echoes of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, a major influence. “Dolly invites you to look deep inside her heart and your soul at the same time. Her melodies are as elemental as nursery rhymes and as soulful & spiritual as hymns.”
She followed that up with the grittier, soul influenced Maybe in the Morning in 2017, recorded at FAME in Muscle Shoals, AL. Born On The Ground, her latest, is a full band record that explores ‘nine “love” songs that capture nine different relationship break-ups from her past.”
A connoisseur of muscle cars, old man’s bars and vintage guitars – a 1956 Gibson ES-140 in Natural Finish is on her #drool list- Duff lives and breathes the life of a musician every day. That’s not to say that’s all there is to her. She’s also a devoted wife and mother, focusing on making sure her children have a proper upbringing. And she’s proud to have maintained thirty years of sobriety.
“We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and the full Born On The Ground album was recorded at Cowboy Technical Services Rig in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with studio owner Eric Ambel (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bottle Rockets, Steve Earle, Jimbo Mathis) producing the record, and her band of ace New York musicians and guests adding their unique flair.
As can be expected, the roots rock community in the NYC area is a close-knit one, akin to a family gathering, with lots of life-long friendships. Ambel had seen Duff perform enough to grasp her essence, and comfortable enough to suggest a different approach for the studio sessions, which the band tracked live with minimal overdubs.
“Emily is good, and she’s got a great band and they’re open to changes,” he said. “When you have a group of guys at that caliber, they can handle changes. Some bands it might be a little over their heads.”
“My place, Cowboy Technical Services Rig, is a workshop style setup. We have a vocal booth and everything but we’re all feeling it together. A lot of times I work with singer/songwriters who want their record to have a band feel and that’s what I tried to bring with Emily’s project. On “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” I played the guitar solo and licks at the end. Sometimes I’ll play on a record and sometimes I’ll just produce. Whatever is needed.”
Duff’s voice is more direct on Born On The Ground than her previous records, recalling the confessional sides of Rosanne Cash and Michelle Shocked, tinged with the feistiness of the Bottle Rockets and Dan Baird. It’s an approach Ambel deliberately zoned in on during the tracking sessions.
“With Emily, compared to some of her other records, I tried a different vocal approach for her. When you sing hard live, it’s one thing. When you’re in the studio and everything is set up properly, you can get more out of the artist’s voice if they’re not pushing quite so hard. And I think Emily really enjoyed it.”
As Duff states in her press release for Born On The Ground, “I wanted to examine emotional wounds through the mature lens of time with the self-confidence, faith and the wisdom of motherhood and marriage. On my own from a very young age, I grew up rudderless, without positive role models for relationships and grew from tragedy, loss and trial and error to understand where true love & happiness lives for me today. Self-worth is something like planting a garden and understanding that what is born in and on the ground will someday, with work and a little bit of luck, be able to nourish and feed others well. Break-ups are not always with lovers. You can break-up with family members, careers, friends, political parties and bad habits as well. Yes, breaking up can be hard to do, but sometimes it’s how you save your own life.”
This Song Was Recorded (Where/How): Cowboy Technical Services Rig, Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Producer; Mario Viele, Engineer.
Emily Duff: Rhythm Guitar & Lead Vocals, Scott Aldrich: Electric Guitar, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel: Lead Electric Guitar, Skip Ward: Electric Bass, Charlie Giordano: Keyboards, Kenny Soule: Drums & BG Vocals. We tracked live as a band – Avid Pro Tools Overdubbed guitar solo by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel & BG Vocals. Mixed at Cowboy Technical and Mastered by Richard Dodd in Nashville, TN.
This Video was shot on an iPhone during a Pandemic when quite literally…WE AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE. Directed & Edited by Skip Duff with additional virus escape footage by photographer, Charles Chessler. Sylvia Duff appears in this video with permission by Sylvia’s Mother.