May Erlewine – Love Labor (2009)
Released around the same time as her second collaborative album with Samuel Seth Bernard, Welcome Back, May Erlewine’s Love Labor in some respects feels like a companion piece to that fine recording. It’s a bit less forceful than Welcome Back and Erlewine’s musical vision reveals a tighter focus here, but it similarly finds her taking up a more mature musical vision as her already impressive vocal abilities become stronger and all the more versatile. Erlewine’s rich instrument suggests an easy familiarity with folk, country, and blues traditions, and she can handle the swaggering New Orleans second line bounce of “Talkin'” as easily as the earnest gospel-flavored “The Turning.” Love Labor feels more intimate than Welcome Back, but its creative ambitions are admirably broad, and there’s a graceful sadness in the stories of “Skyway Joe” and “Winding Road” that’s honest and emotionally resonant, a genuine step forward from her earliest work. And musically, Love Labor manages to sound tight and skillfully executed without appearing to have been overly fussed over; Erlewine and her talented collaborators have captured an organic, natural sound that reinforces the strength of this music, and Ian Gorman’s engineering gives this album the pleasing, realistic sound of a handful of musicians playing together in a room without a lot of bells and whistles getting in the way. Erlewine was already one of the more impressive figures on the Midwest’s contemporary folk scene, but Love Labor shows she’s actually getting better, and it’s an impressive and pleasurable achievement.