Sunday, October 8, 2017

On That Heart Level: May Erlewine

May Erlewine
Oct 21st at The Ark in Ann Arbor

May Erlewine’s voice could heal a burdened heart. And don’t a lot of us have one of those, these days?

You could have a profound experience when you listen to the latest album from the Traverse City-based singer/songwriter, and perhaps even more so when you hear her songs in person at The Ark on October 21st.

There’s a sacred-feeling energy that emanates in any room Erlewine performs. Her intention is always to forge a feeling of interconnectedness. Her intention, really, is to forge feeling. “I’m always reaching for that, and trying to stay connected with the audience,” said Erlewine. “To provide a space where we can all just feel,” her voice almost sounds musical when she says that word, “whatever it is, let’s just feel it. ‘Cuz things are moving fast, ya know?”

Erlewine has been writing and recording music for several years, having traveled all around our state (and much of the country) to perform her tender blends of Americana-folk and soft, soulful rock odes. Her latest, Mother Lion, features recorded contributions from several Michigan music scene vets, like Theo Katzman, Joe Dart, and Woody Goss (who are ¾ of Vulfpeck), as well as Joey Dosik, Lindsay Lou, Jeremy Kittel, and Antwaun Stanley.

These sweetly melodic songs, with rustling percussion, shimmering pianos, and flares of more fiery electric guitars, are brave bearings of a heart that was breaking in real time as they were written. Adornments from strings and choir-like backing vocals augment the voice of Erlewine as it flutters and heaves, fearless to show vulnerability during certain verses, and fiercely pushing back with deeply affecting choruses. It’s as though these lyrics know right where the bruises are; things we’ve all been feeling at one time or another (especially this past year). Mother Lion aims to offer and share an alleviation of the human soul.

What began, with songwriting, as personal catharsis, soon became a mission to “dig really deep, emotionally, toward feelings that are hard to make space for,” said Erlewine. “I try to (make music) that’s working towards acceptance of what is…, even if whatever that is challenging. And so (the songs) just keep getting deeper, as things get harder.”

“Where I really feel that I connect to a listener is on that heart level,” she said. “That’s my great work that I have to do, to dig deep and help people be, and feel, what’s in their hearts, fully! And that isn’t an easy, cleaned-up, perfect space to make (with music); it requires of us a lot of gentle compassion. But that’s what I strive for. I don’t know if I always get there, but that’s my intention. Embracing what is not ideal, or what is difficult, and really being in a heart-space, surrounding those things.”

Erlewine is a key figure in the north-western Michigan-based Earthworks Music Collective. She has led a very musical life that has blossomed over the last decade with her solo albums, as well as singing in other groups like the folk songs of the Sweet Water Warblers and the groovy big band numbers of The Motivations. She’s a guitarist, but also plays the piano and viola. Her songs have touchstones in traditional roots, country, and folk, but expand, lyrically, into more worldly, contemplative, and evermore empathetic terrains.

“Never One Thing” is a song of righteous declaration, female empowerment, and claiming all of the spaces of existence. “Fine Line” is a beautiful song that bravely inhabits an unhealable grief, while “Mountain Top” is minimal march bravely acknowledging a burden without respite. It may be a heavier album compared to her previous releases, but you’ll still feel a weight lifted after hearing these songs.

May Erlewine
Mother Lion Release Show
Oct 21
The Ark
316 S. Main St

This is an extended version of an article featured in the October print edition of The Ann Arbor Current

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