Way Past Seventeen – Shelby Merchant (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Here’s the conundrum. Music which explores new territories is more important in the creative scene of things than music which covers old ground. But music which is, at least in part, familiar is going to pick up listeners more readily than music which is challenging to listen to. So how do you create something which serves both the higher cause, which helps continue the very evolution of music yet write songs which have an easy appeal? If you knew the answer to that you’d be untouchable. I’m not saying that Shelby Merchant is there but she has got closer to that sweet spot than many have in a long, long time.

It’s not that her music is un-pigeon-hole-able (that’s a word, right?), you can hear folk threads, sometimes rock energy and plenty of indie-pop poise running all through her music, but it is the way that she weaves those elements into a new design which is the real charm. The result is wonderfully accessible yet seems to be about bringing a freshness to the format. Take Connect The Dots, the opening track, it takes a delicate folk-pop delivery but uses a lilting, tumbling, jazz-infused beat to drive it, making it at once wonderfully familiar and wilfully disarming.

And from there she wanders between more conforming sounds, the title track being a fantastically delicate and delicious piece of neo-folk…folk-pop…alt-folk…some sort of folk anyway, sounding like the gentle end of Edie Brickell or Cowboy Junkies (for those with long memories,) and more unique creations too. Lionheart is a pulsing and primal piece of pop, Bound To Disappear a charming country jaunt, Skeleton Closet is blistering pop-rock, half low-slung grating, gutter guitar grooves, half anthemic on-off power dynamics and Today Was Good is timeless singer-songwriter sass.

And whilst you can spot the sonic building blocks Shelby Merchant uses to build her subtle sonic architecture, when you step back from the intricate weaves and the structural specifics, the overall sound is new and different enough to make it stand out. And that is the fine line every artist is trying to walk. On one side lies familiarity on the other freshness and between the two Shelby Merchant deftly walks delivering ten perfect and unique tracks along the way.

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