Eliza Blue CD Release with Aby Wolf at Cedar Cultural Center

Eliza Blue - Photo by Tony Nelson

In all likelihood, Eliza Blue is a far more complex, perhaps even troubled, individual than most of us will ever know. Perhaps she wrestles with some inner anxieties or unhappiness, perhaps she simply feels in a very deep manner. What is clear about Ms. Blue is that she is a gifted musician who makes beautiful music, which not only moves her audience but also seems to bring her great joy.

“I was in a real bad place before I made this album,” Blue said Friday night at the Cedar. She was introducing the title track from her new album, The Road Home – a long-awaited follow-up to 2007’s Screen Doors and Back Doors – which she released that night. Nearly tearing up, she explained, “The recording process is what brought me back home. So, really, this song is what the album is about.”

What followed was a harrowing performance, one full of an ancient grief delivered simply through Blue’s acoustic guitar and wounded-siren voice. In the world “The Road Home” evoked, Christ was one among many haunting specters offering salvation, pain overwhelmed with the inevitability of the turning seasons, and the “road” was little more than an illusory but ultimately necessary promise of escape.

Yet, if this was the evening’s defining moment, then the recurring theme was one of redemption and celebration. Until that point, Blue was radiant, wearing a long, glittering silver dress with her hair draped down her back, smiling almost uncontrollably as she sang. “This is the best job in the world,” she enthused at one point, her shyness washing away with the excitement of performing. Performing was no doubt a cathartic process in and of itself: having played “The Road Home,” the singer’s smile returned, and while her lyrics continued wrestling with demons, her mood was triumphant and gracious.

Eliza Blue and band - Photo by Tony Nelson

Blue played the new album mostly in order, accompanied throughout by Brass Kings’ percussionist Mikkel Beckman, whose assortment of household objects added subtle though often crucial seasoning to the sparse arrangements. Other musicians rotated in and out – there was a mournful bass here, a fluttering violin there, then a banjo tinkling like rain on a hot summer night. Aby Wolf, who was the opener Friday, joined Blue for a handful of duets, adding a lovely extra layer to the likes of “Belongs to Me” and “Ask Me to Dance,” the melancholy single that bookends The Road Home and came toward the end of the set.  At the very end came a surprisingly great cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which fit in better than one would expect it to do.

Wolf – bubbly as ever and dressed in a sweet wolf -shirt – started the night off with a series of covers, including pieces by Sara Vaughn and Erykah Badu, but these songs didn’t come off as well as her own did. While more experimental than Blue, the gregarious avant-vocalist’s voice was also at the heart of her music, ranging from hushed whispers to resounding cries while the backing band provided understated accompaniment. Each song seemed to gather steam as it went and, likewise, the set steadily built momentum, culminating in a satisfying new song with a slinky rhythm. It was probably the best song of Wolf’s opening act, a fact that bodes well for her own, much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s debut, Sweet Prudence.

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