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Eighteen contributors participated in this new 12-track effort by the redoubtable NY singer-songwriter/acoustic guitarist Emily Duff. Ms. Duff took her songs to producer John Gifford III for Hallelujah Hello at the legendary Alabama FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. Emily wisely invested her new LP with a reliable historical studio and it’s obvious.
An immediate knockout intro to the title track “Hallelujah Hello” exemplifies Emily’s energy and enthusiasm — likened to a country hybrid of Patti Smith. Out of the gate Bob Wray lays down a heavy bass and Justin Holder provides the snap to the beat. Will MacFarlane injects gutsy lead guitar supported by Kelvin Holly (guitar) & Wayne Bridge (pedal steel /dobro). Quite an impressive open.
The even more spiritual and assertive “Get in the Water,” cooks in a southern tradition. If Aretha Franklin were alive — she’d cover this. All polished smooth despite its rich retro arrangement. Proficiency is sharp and shimmers. Duff’s vocal is as hot and swampy as Maria Muldaur or Bonnie Bramlett (Delaney & Bonnie).
“You, You, You,” provides distinctive brass by Brad Guin (tenor sax), Ken Watters (trumpet), & Billy Bargetzi (Trombone). The guitars wind around like bees buzzin’ a hive with a jazzy saxophone bite that bellows superbly. Duff’s vocals are never watered down or unsure. Delivered with authority and with spice, sweetness, and texture in each song. Emily is quite a musical chef.
“You Better Believe,” features good MacFarlane guitar framed by more soulful horns. The backup has power. Justin Holder’s steady drums continue to hold everything down; accentuated by washes of cymbals.
What follows is a sterling intro — Emily in another register. A sincere, genuine country voice for “Eggs All Day.” Drums pound boot heel-like as the Wayne Bridge pedal steel/dobro blends distinctly. It makes one want to sit on a porch with a jug of shine, rocking chair and a hound at their feet. This is not pop-country – it’s potent country-soul.
Emily switches gears on “Jesus Love This Tired Woman.” An acoustic well-arranged, formidable song with an absorbing melody. A dynamic slow burn performance. Emily’s ability to maintain a rich diversity in her repertoire with fluency is impressive. There’s little cliché or monotony in her work. Emily doesn’t go deep into the religious pool despite some quasi-religious references in song titles. No Bible-thump. No preaching.
Emily’s “The Day He Walked,” conjures Reba McIntyre. Tight guitars, snappy drums, and cool female backup. The surprise comes here: finally, Emily rocks out brilliantly. Hearty drum, bass & Jerry Lee Lewis piano let loose with sparks. It all pours from “We All Need Savin’ Sometime.” A barn-burner with soul, aggression to perk up ears.
Emily’s more reverent voice with an impassioned tone is evident on “Trust the Lord.” I understand why Emily chose Muscle Shoals. Country soul sincerity is in its walls. One of Emily’s finest vocals.
Acoustic guitars and Donny Carpenter’s fiddle open “Loved Blues,” and Emily goes into an Appalachian comfort zone and this confirms Emily’s diversity. This is where you find Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, June Carter and now Emily Duff.
The country-flavored cleverly written “Heaven Is Where I’m Bound,” is more commercial and dominated by acoustic guitar. It has balanced aggression in the lyrics, but Emily vocally restrains from bitterness.
The final track opens gently — “The Fall,” — don’t let that fool you. This is equal parts countrified Patti Smith and Lou Reed. What’s in it? God, middle-fingers, Lazarus, greasy pizza, alcohol, smokes, not wanting to be forgiven. A small masterpiece. Not because it borders on blasphemy. Many people feel like this and have lost faith. Clayton Ivey’s piano adds a drop of tension, Emily’s vocal is solid. Together, they nail the song to a listener’s ear.