All text and images ©2016 David Hill Photography
Released September 2016
Reviewed November 2016
Denver based Edison released their first full length album, Familiar Spirit, in early September. It's an ambitious record, full of hopes, fears, and joy. The trio has produced a much fuller sound than on their EP Ghosts, thanks in part to the addition of Maxwell Hughes. His guitar playing blends nicely with Sarah Slaton's vocals and the drums, trumpet, and mandolin of multi-instrumentalist Dustin Morris.
The songs on the album are quite diverse, as is Slaton's voice. On the opening track "The Good Fight", a song about a relationship gone bad, you can almost feel the pain as she sings "I beg for time, and you show me no more mercy". There is a melancholy quality to her vocals on this song, reminiscent of Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde.
While the acoustic treatment of "The Good Fight" works well, the band shines as they bring in some electric guitar and the songs get a little dirtier, first with "San Jose", then "Civil War" with its catchy "my head, my heart, are raging in a civil war" chorus that is guaranteed to have crowds singing along when the band plays live.
The band takes a darker turn with "Water in the Well", a song unlike any other on the album. There is more conscious attention to production on this song, both Slaton's vocals and Morris' trumpet are haunting, and the judicious use of reverb, bring the listener to the well. Lyrically, the song is just as deep. The subject of the song, looking for fulfillment from someone else, eventually realizes that the person they desire is empty themselves. It is an interesting take on the adage "you can't love someone else until you can love yourself".
Thankfully, after the deep thoughts of "Water in the Well", the band placed the upbeat and fun "Open Road", the lead single and video from Familiar Spirit. The song, despite the fact that
it was recorded in a studio, truly emulates a live Edison performance. The toe-tapping rhythms, interesting mandolin melody, and use of harmonica make this a standout. A word of warning, if you listen to this song while driving, set your cruse control. Although I'm sure local law enforcement would be happy to add to the live experience with a complimentary blue light show, it's better to get a ticket to an Edison show than one for speeding.
Additionally, it's at this point on the record that we begin to see a different side of Slaton's voice. The grittiness of the first four tracks is replaced by joy and exuberance. As the album nears the end with "Back and Forth" and the hopeful "New York", there is suddenly a Joni Mitchell-esque sweetness , that continues on into the final song "Tie Me Down".
Overall, Edison has proven that they deserve to be in the alt-folk spotlight and the well written songs on Familiar Spirit create a strong album that knows how to balance fun with more intellectual pursuits.
Edison opening for Jared and the Mill at Brighton Music Hall, September 3, 2016. From left to right, Dustin Morris, Sarah Slaton, and Maxwell Hughes. .