May Erlewine

Welcome Back

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On their first few albums, both Samuel Seth Bernard and May Erlewine sounded like big kids in the studio, playful and full of wonder, but they appear to have been doing some growing up on their second album as a duo, Welcome Back. The fact Bernard is now using his given name Samuel and Erlewine has stopped calling herself Daisy May is probably significant, and though this album finds them both in fine voice and playing as well as ever, the melodies suggest a more measured and thoughtful approach than in the past -- the overall tone of this music is more mature and reflective, with Bernard and Erlewine upping the ante on the socially conscious messages of their earlier compositions. None of this is to say this music is dry or without joy -- Welcome Back is rich and satisfying stuff, with excellent interplay from the musicians (Dominic Suchyta and Mike Shimmin are a fine and versatile rhythm section) and the musical flavors run the gamut from the Tin Pan Alley jazz stylings of "Honey One" to the soulful country rock of "Baby You're Power," which could pass for a lost Whiskeytown track. But Welcome Back's 12 tracks suggest that these artists have become increasingly aware of the high stakes of life in our post-millennium culture, and these songs address both personal and political issues with heart, compassion, and beauty. Bernard and Erlewine were already artists with plenty to offer, but Welcome Back shows their work is still growing and evolving, and the new levels of imagination and commitment make this album a very pleasant surprise.

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