Five years removed from her successful debut album, Carve Me Out, singer-songwriter Kate Ellis returns with a superb sophomore effort. Conceived during lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, her latest album Spirals is nostalgic, expansive, and a fervent exploration of the limits of country and folk music.
The music and production have an overall sound very reminiscent of the late-90s era of country music where many female artists were hitting their stride – Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks – all embracing tradition, yet each one offering their own unique touch. Ellis’ ability to give each story it’s own unique musical character is her true talent and the real beauty of an album like this. But this album, first and foremost, is a songwriter’s album with every song as pensive and personal as the next. Even the fun moments still hold emotional depth like in the upbeat country-blues song, “Scars,” a rocking record about an emotionally rocky relationship. These songs represent a period in Ellis’ life where she’s taking the time to sift through the thoughts and emotions running through her head, frantically trying to document and purge them all. Each track is full of dozens of little fascinating moments and each one is a lesson lived.
There are a handful of standout tracks here, each one offering a unique perspective. “Other Side of the Street” is an ode to the relationships that change you for the better and continue to influence your life long after they’ve ended. The most beautifully heartbreaking is undoubtedly “Wonderland,” serving as a wistful show of appreciation for nature’s beauty, as well as a mournful dirge anticipating its inevitable destruction due to our current climate crisis. However it’s the closing track, “The Story You’ve Been Told,” that ultimately encapsulates the overall theme of the entire album and Ellis’ main goal in writing these songs. “You’re perfect, you are whole/I don’t know what you’ve been told.” Oftentimes all we need is somebody to open us up and start us on the path towards truth, healing, and acceptance of who we really are. If Kate Ellis can be that somebody for at least one person with these songs, then this album will be a hit.
Spirals is both a product and a symbol of the times in which it was created. Worldwide lockdowns over the last few years presented many of us with an opportunity to work on ourselves, maybe address some feelings we’d been suppressing or chase the dreams we’d put on hold. Kate Ellis did both. She has the heart of a true artist and the praiseworthy ability to express relatable human emotion in 4 minutes or less. Her stories, experiences, and lessons are here for us to have and learn from as well. What began as an artistic, soul-searching exercise for Kate during quarantine, Spirals turned out to be her most honest, reflective, and triumphant piece of work to date.
Written by Tim Clark
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