When they picked up the Glastonbury Emerging Talent award back in 2010 they were, somewhat predictably, dubbed “the female fronted Mumford And Sons“. But, while it might not roll off the tongue as easily, in reality Ellen And The Escapades sit rather uncomfortably between Thea Gilmore and the band’s current tour support Paper Aeroplanes.
While the latter are whimsical and verge on kooky the former, still in her early 30s, has carved a slow-burning, cultish career that sincerely digs and pokes around both traditional and poppish folk. While singer Ellen Smith’s waspish, soft focus voice is distinctive and full of old world character, her band’s debut doesn’t quite reach the heart-wrenching, whisky drenched depths needed to satisfy the more discerning folk fan. Her heavy Leeds accent morphs into a southern Americana drawl that doesn’t so much guide or steer the album’s 12 tracks – it’s too husky and gentle for that – but is certainly the stand out feature of a band that seems unsure of what it is.
The country-tinged, upbeat songs serve them best – Without You is a blast of mouth organ and cheeky trilling banjo while Preying On Your Mind is a foot stomping sing-along – that nod towards Sheryl Crow‘s early brand of high voltage country for the masses.
All The Crooked Scenes goes beyond the usual nu-folk subjects of heart ache and lust, at times looking to nature for inspiration, which brings with it a whole host of vividly painted pictures. From the delicate, floating Stone Bird to the crackling forest chills of I’ll Keep You Warm. Elsewhere this imagery bursts into the music, and Cast is a rolling, raincloud at dawn that splashes into speedily strummed strings.
When it works it’s… nice. Warm. Pleasant. But when it doesn’t it slips by without a trace, which is a shame because with Smith’s voice Ellen And The Escapades have in their midst a remarkable gift; it’s not a resource untapped, but perhaps one they’ve not quite worked out what to do with yet. The bulk of All The Crooked Scenes feels too soft and full of wasted opportunities, and while recording an album full of chirpy thigh-slappers would be a waste too, these songs have a destination. The others feel non-committal and a bit too eager to please.
A harder edge would do them wonders, but with the raw ingredients in place, their follow-up record is already an inviting proposition.