MAY ERLEWINE – The Real Thing (10 Good Songs 007)

The Real ThingWorking on the premise that people power can bring changes on a global scale, belatedly getting a European release almost a year after America, the Michigan singer-songwriter’s 22nd full-length album (either solo or in collaboration) navigates moments between people and seeking truth. Joined by Packy Lundholm on guitars, Phil Cook on keys, bassist Joel Gottschalk and producer Theo Katzman on drums, The Real Thing opens with the muted offbeat drums and simple guitar notes of ‘More Time’, as, negotiating a relationship, keyboards and bass entering the mix, she breathily sings “I don’t wanna change your mind/But I could use some more time/Just a little more time could save me/If I’m gonna walk that line… You know I′m gonna burn it baby/If we’re taking on sides”.

A more scuffling drum rhythm and dreamier, slightly funkier keys carry ‘The Cost’ a number about independence, self-discovery, and embracing your vulnerabilities, where, echoing the previous song she’s saying “Don′t try to change my mind/I do it all the time” and basically espouses a learn from your mistakes ethos in “who says we have to bе right?/I get it wrong all the time/I′m lеarning to fall and survive/That’s how I know I′m alive”. And while “sometimes it costs a lot to dream…If we’re living and not giving up/If we’re living we′re giving enough/And who says we have to be tough?

Taking an upbeat marching tempo where her cascading trebly vocals evoke thought of Courtney Marie Andrews, ‘Love And Desire’ again speaks of imperfections and concessions (“I won’t find a sound to drown out the trouble in me/I won′t get it right the first time, not with anything/I’m nothing like that clock on the wall/I just give you all my time, that′s all”) in a pragmatic self-assessment (“I won′t find a way to live out the fantasy/No white picket fence, no happy ever ending/I′m nothing like that picture in the frame”) and defiance (“I won’t tell a lie, I won′t deny my destiny/I’m nothing like that song you always sing/I just learned the tune and found a harmony”), wrapped round the catchy title refrain “I’ll meet you at the corner of/Love and desire”.

The lightly strummed, snare-timed ‘Summer Shoes’ is a poignantly bittersweet (and one assumes highly personal) reflection of living with someone with dementia, recalling them listening to ‘Diamonds And Rust and “keeping time/With the kitchen broom”, talking about their first date, “The dress you wore on Sunday/The recipes you want to make real soon”, in the kitchen where “A calendar hangs on the wall/Marking dates you can’t recall/Next to it a list of things to do/A note that says “sister called”/She’ll be visiting in June”. The title referring to a specific memory of how “The price-tag read/Women’s leather/Robin Blue”.

Opening with a keyboard line reminiscent of ‘Daydream Believer’, ‘Meet Me’ feels like a song about facing hard truths (“I′ve never been one for pretending/And I’m not one to lie/I know the sound of an ending/Know every heartbreak lullaby”), trying to hold on (“I’ve never been good at leaving/I′m always standing by/I′ll take every chance on believing/Before I’ll say my last goodbyes”) and acceptance (“I’ve never been onе to give up/At least not without a fight/I didn′t want things to break up/But I was holding on too tight… I′ll fall apart if you want it that way”) in looking to “make it right”.

Anchored by spare and ruminative piano notes, ‘Heroes’ also deals with empathising over break-ups (“Did you hear me calling in the night/You were lost on the other line/It must have taken 20 times to get through/You left a note on your door/Saying, love don′t live here  anymore/It wasn’t love, I was looking for you”) and the emotional fall out (“I know you′re gonna carry that pain/On and on ’til judgement day/The more they give/The more you take/But will you take it to your grave?”) as she encourages “Lift up your head/Don’t go down like that/Even heroes have a lot to fear/I think it′s brave/To live with your mistakes/To feel thе weight of the years/To makе the best while we′re here”.

The airy, fingerpicked title track glows with the feeling of finding a genuine connection that goes beyond romantic fantasies (“I wanna fall in love in the harsh light of your kitchen/Telling the truth and chopping the onions/I spent so much time chasing the dream/Now I found the real thing”), and of those small but magical moments (“I wanna know the songs that your mother sings…I want to walk together in the morning light/I wanna talk to thе river and the countryside/I want to ask forgivеness to give me wings”).

In contrast, however, the slow walk, gospel-tinged piano ballad ‘The Truth On My Side’ refuses to compromise beliefs and principles to sustain a relationship (“I can′t carry that weight/Like you want me to/Like I was you”) as she sings that while “it′s not easy/Watching you fall apart this way” and she sees “the beauty in your lies”, she declares “I wanna live/With the Truth on my side”.

Another coloured by meditative piano, ‘Where The Past Belongs’ is a lovely number about realising you have to let go and not cling to what once was, framed by a phone call putting it to rest (“You called to tell me you were fine/We talked for hours on the phone/You were working nine-five/You were better on your own/All the promises we made/Things we etched into the stone/Slowly drifting away/With the dial tone”) because “Sometimes it doesn′t last a lifetime/Sometimes forever’s not that long/Sometimes the past is where the past belongs”.

But after the night comes the dawn and the promise of a new tomorrow as, another stately gospel-tinged piano ballad, the album ends with ‘Land Of The Free’ and, while feeling “lost In the land of the free” (“I could not find/One breath of peace/Calling out to the people/My voice getting weak”), there’s a sense of liberation in the opening lines “Rain is good company/I woke up alone/It’s nice to hear something/Besides the unknown/And I feel the future/ Breaking in me”, shading to dejection with the state of the nation final verse alluding to Martin Luther King in “I heard him speak/Like a mountain that day/Holding my heart/Like a pillar of faith/His words were like diamonds/I have a dream./A dream that got lost/In the land of the free”.

Musically understated, tenderly sung and lyrically insightful and compassionate, these 10 great songs are further incontrovertible proof that Erlewine is indeed the real thing.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Land Of The Free’ – official video:

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