It was a day like many others. I was working away when a press release arrived telling me about an artist whom I’d never heard of coming to Portland – specifically, to Empire on Friday night. The first thing I read is that indie-folk artist May Erlewine has been described as “Michigan’s songbird.” OK, I’m curious, I thought to myself while reaching for my headphones.
Before reading another sentence, I started to listen to her “Mother Lion” album that came out last year. It was quickly revealed that the songbird moniker is indeed accurate as Erlewine’s voice is pure, sincere and emotionally captivating in that, the more I listened, the more I wanted to keep doing just that.
“Mother Lion” opens on a delicate note with the song “Wild.” The track has quickly become near and dear to me with the lines: “If they ask about me, tell them I’m just taking my time/Tell them not to go looking, ’cause they won’t like what they find.” Keys come first, then acoustic guitar and at about the halfway mark, a dreamy violin comes in. The song is like a flower finding its way through still-frozen April ground: slowly at first and with patience and then with a strong, glorious burst of color before quietly settling back into itself.
When the song ended and other ones poured into my ears, I was left with many questions. I went back to the press release and ventured to Erlewine’s website, where I was surprised and thrilled to hear that “Mother Lion” is actually her 11th full-length album in a recording career that began in 2003 with “Sleepless.” Talk about prolific! I look forward to unwrapping each one like a gift over the coming months as I work my way backwards.
I was also struck by what Erlewine said on her site about the “Mother Lion” album: “It is an offering of vulnerability and raw heart. It has been cradled and protected with intention by my producer, Tyler Duncan. Each step and everybody that gave to this music did so with all their might, all of their love, all of their spirit. You can hear it. It is a journey. A journey of feeling. Hoping that the sentiments hit a home in your chest and offer a release. I don’t know if there is somewhere to get to, but there is definitely somewhere to be.”
Vulnerability and a raw heart are indeed running themes throughout “Mother Lion’s” 14 tracks. “Fine Line” is a great example with the open-hearted lines: “I’m afraid, I’m afraid peace will never find us/I’m afraid, I’m afraid fear has blinded us/I can’t do no nothing, I can’t do everything/It’s a fine line.” The song is a slow to mid-tempo plea to find solace from the storms of both the past and future. Anchored by piano and tranquil percussion, it’s sublime.
The first single from “Mother Lion” was “Never One Thing,” which has a stomp-clap vibe to it and what sounds like a small chorus of backing vocals, giving it something of a spiritual quality. “I’m a street fighter, I’m a prayer for peace/I’m a holy roller, I’m a honey bee,” sings Erlewine.
On “Shake the World,” Erlewine invites love into her life, “Paint the Town” has her saying so long to sorrow, and “What You Want” is a plea for connection and answers. By the time I reached the final track, “Grateful,” it was like reaching the end of someone’s diary, one I was invited to read. I suspect the live performance will also convey this level of intimacy. Erlewine’s band is Mack Lockwood on bass, Anand Nayak on guitar and drummer Julian Allen.
Here’s a brand new song from Erlewine called “That’s My Home”
Local singer-songwriter Hannah Daman opens the show. She also fronts the band Sibylline and has a lovely, impassioned voice. Ask her to play “Micmac Cinderella.” You can thank me later.
9 p.m. Friday. Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland, $10 in advance, $12 day of show, 18-plus. portlandempire.com