After her critically-acclaimed debut album Wildfire, the pressure must have been on Elles Bailey with her follow up. But she exceeds even the highest of expectations on Road I Call Home, a record that is nothing short of phenomenal. Much more personal than her first, yet no less genre-spanning, Road I Call Home is, in her own words, “a year’s snapshot of being on the road”. Indeed, there is a real sense that the album takes you on a journey, through a soundscape that is a patchwork of vivid colour even as it refuses to be clearly defined. It is a melodious mountain that makes for a rather pleasurable climb.
The ascent begins at a reasonably gentle pace with ‘Hell or High Water’, a song whose intro steadily rises into a set of increasingly rousing verses interspersed with a simple but gorgeously-sung chorus. It then enters slightly rougher terrain with ‘Wild Wild West’, an upbeat Southern rock number that includes the lyrics ‘Come as you are to the land of milk and honey/ But you ain’t leaving with your soul’. This contrast between light and dark, hope and despair, becomes a bit of a theme on Road I Call Home.
‘Deeper’ and ‘What’s the Matter with You’ take us into gospel territory. The electric organ brings a spark of colour to two tracks that operate at a fairly slow tempo. This allows Bailey’s voice to come to the forefront, a slight rasp accompanying her otherwise smooth vocals. ‘Medicine Man’ then returns us to the land of rock where the electric guitar is the star of the show. The narrative is so beautifully drawn by the lyrics, but the electric guitar helps bring it to life, teasing out some truly evocative images that allow the listener to inhabit the song.
We are now firmly following in Bailey’s footsteps, perhaps reaching the summit of an (un)conscious aim. To celebrate, the title track offers a toe-tapping, hand clapping beat. It is full of energy, even as it hints at the potential for implosion: “My soul’s on fire but my body’s holding on”. ‘Road I Call Home’ is perhaps the most personal epithet of Bailey’s life yet.
After the blues-fuelled ballad ‘Foolish Hearts’, ‘Help Somebody’ and ‘Little Piece of Heaven’ feel like the descent back down underneath a faintly warm and hazy sunrise. There is something quietly uplifting about both of these tracks. They offer a kind of emotional release that leads us nicely into ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’. With a slightly more traditional country sound, this lovesong offers none of the schmaltz of its pop counterparts. Instead, its sincerity feels tinged with irony.
Final track ‘Light in the Distance’ is pure soul. The journey ends with a dip into the pool of tradition, Bailey drawing inspiration from the greats of the past, her own hero, Janis Joplin, among them. It is a beautiful song with which to finish – the reflection at the journey’s end. And what a journey Road I Call Home is – through a musical landscape of soulful sounds and honest lyrics. Bailey has managed to do the seemingly impossible and top her first album. Road I Call Home is a glorious record that deserves repeated listening.
Review by Gaz Williams