On her new Kickstarter-funded EP, Kelcy Mae explores new musical ground.
Part of the fun of covering a scene is watching artists develop. When Kelcy Mae released Pennies in Hand in 2011, it had "MFA student" written all over it. The songs were ambitious and singer/songwriter Kelcy Wilburn has enough voice to sell them, but she was a writer first so there were words fitted into all available spaces. On the new The Fire EP, Wilburn's honing things down, embracing the difference between poems and songs and writing the latter. On Pennies in Hand, Kelcy Mae worked within a folk-rock framework; this time, her Americana-based palate's more fluid, expanding and contracting to suit the songs - horns in "Would Love," upright piano and stinging lead guitar in the title track, for example.
In the past, Wilburn's band has often been composed of friends and well-wishers. This time her vision is better realized as she steps up the quality of her collaborators, producing The Fire with Rotary Downs' Jason Rheim and The Polyphonic Spree and Afghan Whigs' Rob Nelson. Alex McMurray, Alexis Marceaux, The Revivalists' Andrew Campanelli and Alexandra Scott join the band, and the songs are more complete and detailed for what they bring to the sessions. At no point do the production or talent overshadow the songs, though. "Oh How the Whiskey" is firmly rooted in the Irish drinking song tradition without sounding like a Pogues or Chieftains leftover, and "Would Love" builds its intensity with an earned, honest logic.
The Fire is a Kickstarter-funded five songs designed for Wilburn to explore the possibilities her songs present, and clearly they offer her a lot. Now her challenge is imprint herself a little more strongly on the material. She has the voice and musical sense to do a lot; now she needs to discover the songs that could only come from her.
Kelcy Mae plays Friday night at The Hi-Ho Lounge with The Tintypes opening. The Tintypes perform at 8 p.m. and Kelcy Mae plays at 9. The show is free.