“Under Evergreen” – Shelby Earl
Some songs, to paraphrase William Shakespeare (badly), are born great; others have greatness thrust upon them. “Under Evergreen” as a song is simple and torchy, a song to fade into the background or rise to the foreground based less on its intrinsic qualities than on the strength and spirit the singer brings to it.
Earl enters the piece on her own, singing the words “I look around” before the instruments begin playing. This itself is a wonderful, subtle statement, alerting us before we can fully register it that we are dealing with a singer of arresting power and poise. And let’s hear it for how poise tempers power; while “X Factor” histrionics on the one hand and runaway robotics on the other have overrun pop singing at the mass-market level, Earl single-handedly confirms the heart-breaking effect of vocal strength and tone when used with discipline and without fetishistic techno-fads. She is a new singer/songwriter who sounds like an old one. I mean that in the best of ways. (Even her god-given name sounds like an old singer/songwriter.) Under her guidance, “Under Evergreen” becomes three minutes and forty-three seconds of sad, strong, slowly swinging greatness.
The song is part of Earl’s debut album, Burn the Boats, set for release at the beginning of November on Local 638 Records, the Seattle-based label owned by Rachel Flotard. Earl by the way spent many years working at relatively high-level music-industry day jobs, trying to get the musician thing going at night. Late in 2009, she made the leap, working as a waitress to pay the rent but otherwise focusing on following her musical bliss. Lord knows how this will work out for her as a lifestyle decision but as an artistic decision it was a no-brainer. I’ve been listening to the whole album and she is without question the real thing.