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Take a stroll through reviews of Emily Jane White‘s music and you’re likely to trip over the same group of adjectives over and over: ghostly, dark, wounded, mysterious, poetic, heartbreaking, powerful. For an artist, these are all high praise, but the real majesty of her work lies in the fact that these ominous tones are wound up in something more elegant and moving than simply a minor key.
The San Francisco resident first debuted with 2007′s Dark Undercoat, which–in conjunction with steady gigging–earned her a respectable fan base in the Bay Area and (as these things sometimes go) in Europe. But despite critical raves, more general popular acclaim has been somewhat elusive here in the States. That is likely to change with the April 27th release of Victorian America on Milan Records, a sophomore effort that bears evidence of a fuller grasp of orchestration and a more mature approach to songwriting. In terms of breaking through to the next level, it may just do the trick.
“Liza” is the seventh track on Victorian American and is an excellent showcase for what makes Emily Jane White’s music so formidable. Its opening passage tenderly folds together plucked electric guitar strings, violin, and lap steel, all slowly churning beneath White’s smoky, smooth voice. It isn’t until halfway through the song that this basic recipe sees any changes; instead, it quietly broods for nearly two minutes, when a more percussive tone overtakes the proceedings for sixty seconds, transforming the track into a battle hymn. The final section of “Liza” is a resolution between these two different sensibilities, with the calmer one eventually winning out. Is it ghostly? Poetic? Dark? To be sure. However, it’s also a damned good song that isn’t content to linger in one mode or mood for longer than it should.