Erin Durant: Islands

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Erin Durant
Islands
(Keeled Scales)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Don’t be misled by Erin Durant’s high-pitched, lilting vocals or her sweet, Carole King-styled acoustic piano accompaniment; that gentle exterior hides a biting, even edgy lyricist with plenty on her mind. 

The New Orleans native and New York City-based singer-songwriter’s sophomore album takes substantial production leaps from her solo, lo-fi, home-recorded 2016 debut. That album found her splitting the track list between softly strummed acoustic guitar and piano. While it set the stage for the far more musically elaborate Islands, it was clear Durant’s introspective songs needed increased sonic heft to make them connect effectively. Enter TV On the Radio’s Kyp Malone who, as co-producer with Durant, brings horns, flute, clarinet, pedal steel, and drums along with his own guitars and electric keyboards to boost the overall sound of these piano-based tunes. 

It’s particularly welcome because Durant’s tunes have a wandering spirit. They mosey through changes of tempo and mood, occasionally tossing in a chorus, often not, as she navigates her words around often diffuse melodies. On “Good Ol’ Night,” the addition of subtle Latin percussion and horns kick the tune into a more expansive rhythmic approach which, with her whimsical vocals and fanciful piano chording, pushes just the right buttons. Better still is the pedal steel that nudges a slight country feel into the melancholy “Take a Load Off,” a story song about a weary traveler enticed into a party, without turning it into pure C&W. Durant gets a little more upbeat on the shuffle beat of “Highway Blue” with brushed drums and harmonica providing a lighter feel to another tune that changes rhythms mid-stream. 

Over half the tracks exceed five minutes which allows Durant the space to begin with her stripped-down piano, gradually adding instruments to strengthen the effect and underscore her often twisty melodies. That’s the case with the six and half minute title track, another tune about travelling, which shifts from solo piano to add gentle, ghostly, siren-like female singers and Mellotron as it progresses, ebbing and flowing with wistful intensity. The closing “Another Town,” yet more travelling here, boasts slowly thumping, urging heartbeat-styled percussion until it dissolves in spacey, echoed guitar and synths. 

It’s a fitting close to a lovely, emotionally poignant album that moves Durant’s music far ahead of her somewhat gauzy, even reticent debut and into far more accessible waters.     

 

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