Emily Bell’s powerful southern soul-rock voice is perfectly displayed in her debut album, In Technicolor, as a lovely blend of vintage inspired rock-and-roll and southern anthems. Bell is equal parts Debbie Harry and Adele; she splashes around in the recent wave of U.K. neo-soul singers and also stays solid in her Houston roots, embodying a stompy rock and roll rhythm that runs raw and untamed throughout her album (that I just can’t stop listening to).
Bell recently said, “I wanted to create an album of songs that captured the energy of what naturally comes out of me, the musicians I work with, and I wanted to stay true to the neighborhood I grew up in.” It was Montrose neighborhood in Houston where Bell had her first encounter with singer/songwriter, John Evans, and producer/co-writer of her debut record. At 19, Bell was bar-tending and singing with bands in the scene. She describes the neighborhood as a space where there were “Delta blues, southern roots music; musicians inspired by the greats – Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Gene Vincent, etc.” After a few brief years on the West Coast – listening, learning, writing, Bell has bounced back to her roots in the South. Lucky for us, this time she is calling Austin home.
“Back to the Way I Was” is a boot stomping, soul-country, girl-power number that fully captures the sense of place Bell strives to conjure. Her lyrics, “driving back to where I’m from / long before I’ll be gone … pull me back to the way I was though I’ll never be the same / every move’s like honey as I’m trying to get away” push us into a comfortable understanding and reflection of the past – filled with reverie and that simultaneous remembrance of why you felt stuck and had to leave in the first place. “Back to the Way I Was” allows listeners to be visually and emotionally transported to Bell’s past (and perhaps their own…who doesn’t feel that they can never be the same when they return to a former home?). The Little Red Riding Hood theme in the video calls into play the idea that conformity leads to danger. Only when she became aware of her surroundings (what big eyes you have), did Little Red Riding Hood and Bell break away from the path.
Her vibrant and powerful aesthetic continues throughout the album, even in songs like “Flower Bed” that sample more from soul and Motown than Bell’s usual rock. At the same time, songs like “Pusher Girl” and “Love Don’t Hold Your Breath” point to a kind of heartbreak and tenderness that often underlies her upbeat sound. This promising debut suggests that Bell has found a timeless and unique sound, while showing off her southern, rock chick, and feminine sides that will be a joy to listen to over and over again.
Check out Emily Bell’s In Technicolor Album Release Party “The Technicolor Ball” at the North Door this Friday, May 24th with production design by the GypsySun sisters.
– Bailey Cool