Written by Paul Sexton, Oct 2018
They say you get a lifetime to write your first album, and the blink of an eye to make your second. Elles Bailey wins either way, which is why she's ready to follow the widespread success of Wildfire with the stunningly mature and highly personal synopsis of a year that changed her life in her new album 'Road I Call Home'.
It was only in September 2017 that the Bristol-based singer and songwriter made good on the promise of her live reputation with one of the year's most outstanding debuts across all of the roots music we now call Americana. Wildfire was an exhilarating confirmation of a unique talent, an unmistakable voice whose passionate, visceral shows have made her a favourite with devotees and newcomers alike.
Wildfire was one of that rare breed of records that broke down the barriers to win rapturous praise right across the media. “Every genre,” says Bailey with a smile. “That was such a surprise. Everyone really liked it, from roots and acoustic to rock and metal. Then the fans loved it.” The title track from the album, written with her band guitarist Joe Wilkins, had Bailey racing from Spotify novice to nearly one million streams, while the album itself is close to two million, and still the playlists come in for it.
Road I Call Home, mostly recorded like its predecessor in Nashville with some of Music City's top musicians, is a remarkable companion to Wildfire that retains all of the fire of the debut set, but adds new maturity, perspective and downright soulfulness.
The rise and rise of Elles Bailey has so much to do with the tireless road work that sees her ready to top one hundred gigs, in the UK and across Europe, for the second year in a row. Watch the brisk business at the merch desk at one of her shows and you'll sense how people want to be in on the ground floor of such an exciting talent. Surely no British artist has put more miles into their emergence, or earned the right to the spotlight. Now it's on her, she isn't going to let it dim.
“What I'm really pleased about,” she says, “is my constant touring and relentless building of a fan base has been good in terms of keeping myself in people's attention. I'm very personal, and like to connect with each person on a personal level.”
Elles' irresistibly passionate stage persona is the second thing you notice about her, right after that voice, which holds the key to her silver-lining story. At three, she contracted viral and bacterial pneumonia, and had to breathe through a tube for 17 days.
As she told Country Music Magazine last year, when they made her a Hot Shot pick around the time of Wildfire: “It never felt like my story, because I was so young when I got so ill. My first memory is standing up in hospital and falling over because I was so weak.
Only with the real heavy touring did I start to really understand that it's such a big part of me. I know how fortunate I am that I walked away with a husky voice. And my life.”
Bailey's early endeavours led to a Bristol residency, to which she added opening slots for such artists as Wille & the Bandits and Jo Harman. Elles' first EP Who I Am To Me arrived in February 2015, followed in the autumn of 2016 by The Elberton Sessions, both produced by Brian Banks, whose faultless credentials include programming and playing synthesisers on a Michael Jackson album you may have come across called Thriller.
When Wildfire arrived, we heard an artist who already had plenty of experience in the locker, and the confidence to stand tall at Nashville's Blackbird Studios in exalted company, which also included producer Brad Nowell and Grammy and CMA Award-winning guitarist Brent Mason. Other highlights of the debut, and songs which have become staples of her shows, included 'Same Flame,' 'Howlin' Wolf' and 'Girl Who Owned The Blues,' her tribute to a lasting inspiration who also sang her own truth, Janis Joplin.
This time, with Road I Call Home, it's even more personal. Bailey made the sophomore
record chiefly at Nashville's Sound Emporium, with Nowell sharing production duties with Steve Blackmon, but also cut two tunes for it with her own band at Mono Valley in Wales.
The bluesy base that served Bailey so well on Wildfire is still rock steady, but now
decorated with a richly soulful feel and a horn sound to die for.
“Wildfire was five years of my life, and the lead-up to the whole thing of becoming Elles
Bailey,” she reflects. “Road I Call Home is a year's snapshot of being on the road. Eight of
the 11 songs were written in two months. I'm very honest to what I write, and right now
that's what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to
live this life.”
In 2019, Elles will be back on the road that she really does call home. When she arrives near you, don't think twice, get there. A great evening and a long musical friendship will be waiting.
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR ELLES BAILEY
Every song is Fresh and Original
5/5* Maverick Magazine
It’s a fact that very few make it to the big stage; Elles Bailey has the necessary talent, the drive, and now (with the release of album Wildfire) the product
Blues in Britain
The Voice of The Blues
One of the 'Best of British' albums of the year
Country Music Magazine
One of the best things I've heard
A young woman blessed with an incredible voice
A hugely impressive debut album
So, to sum up, not just a very impressive debut album from Elles Bailey, a very impressive album full stop
A genuine triumph