Album Review – Emily Scott Robinson’s “Traveling Mercies”
From North Carolina, singer and songwriter Emily Scott Robinson has released a remarkable work of cutting autobiographical stories mixed with brilliant works of fiction that even from this early perspective in the calendar year can confidently be presented as one that will challenge for one of the best collections of songs released in all of 2019. With stunning insight, masterful use of character and setting, and tastefully sparse but complete and fulfilling arrangements, a journey through Traveling Mercies makes you a changed human with lessons learned, perspectives expanded, and moments cherished, not dissimilar to the experience of taking a long road trip across the country following a loose itinerary of friends to visit and places to see.
First releasing an 8-song collection of acoustic songs called Magnolia Queen in 2016, Emily Scott Robinson appeared on the radar to many of those who seek to be emotionally devastated by songwriting in the country and roots realm. As auspicious of a start as it was, Magnolia Queen was also a little too short and austere in production to be more than a primer. However Traveling Mercies is nearly perfect in its length, scope, and arrangements, announcing Emily Scott Robinson as an important songwriter of our time, and one where the attention of the country and roots music community should be focused, and dwell.
A travel record at heart, with stories that enchant your perspective similar to the heightened senses that speeding down the highway and taking in new scenery imparts, songs like “Westward Bound” and “White Hot Country Mess” make for enjoyable listens. But this is just the canvas that Emily Scott Robinson stretches taut to create space for her most brilliant master strokes of expression, including in moments where her songwriting becomes so cutting, cunning, poignant, and resonant, it’s only fair to characterize it as authoritative in quality.
For many devoted music listeners, songs from their most beloved artists commonly go on to become the delineating guideposts for momentous moments in their lives. Whenever they revisit a song, it immediately gives rise to the memory of the breakup, the new love found, the nerve-racking move across country or career change, or the death of a loved one that paralleled the song’s introduction into their lives. For the artists who actually compose these songs, this phenomenon is even more pronounced and emotionally intimate as they bare their souls and most personal experiences for all the world to behold and interpret as they wish. It is their deepest personal moments set to music, with maybe some allegory mixed in or names changed to protect the innocent. At least, this is usually the mark of the best, most haunting selections from an artist’s body of work.
In the case of Traveling Mercies, it feels like Emily Scott Robinson has composed an entire record of these conveyed intimacies, from the quiet desperation and fading hopefulness of the traveling and couch-surfing musician in “Borrowed Rooms and Old Wood Floors,” to coming to the conclusion that your best will never be good enough for some in the “Pie Song,” to the the tragic recount of an unwanted sexual episode in “The Dress,” to the death of a grandparent in “Overalls,” the listener has no need to suspend disbelief or to ask for help connecting the dots when it comes to the songs of Emily Scott Robinson. In an economy of words and sounds, she conveys as many details as necessary for you to walk in her shoes, or the shoes of her characters and feel the full breadth of their experience. Even in the story of a Native American assassin called “Shoshone Rose,” it feels less like fiction, and more like a previous life Emily Scott is singing about through seance.
But words are just one dimension to music. In the case of Emily Scott Robinson, it’s also the simple, but luscious guitar melodies and the chord movements that really charm the emotion out of each verse, and send these stories soaring on waves of compelling virtue. This album doesn’t request your quiet attentiveness, it imposes it through its efforts. Some of the songs are just Emily and a guitar, but only when such an arrangement is called for. Similarly, smart accompaniments are layered upon with care. It’s a quiet album, but one that roars for your attention, and is just as fair to call country as anything, though it’s appeal will stretch well into the roots and Americana realm and beyond.
Traveling Mercies is not a concept record, but it has the same enveloping effect of one in the way the travel notions bind the songs together, how the songs score such an emotional impact, and how all the efforts equal something greater than the sum of their parts. Those concerned about the social issues facing women should take note on how the songs “The Dress” and “Run” go so much further in conveying a message than simple anger or assertion threaded into melody and rhyme. On a record where accessibility and the need for a breather from such heavy moments is necessary, “White Hot Country Mess” works great in this capacity.
Not dissimilar to how you often recall your most warmest or touching memories in quiet moments of reflection, an open heart will entrust similar moments to pondering the stories of Traveling Mercies. Because in an era full of noise and ever-present distraction and priority, this is an album worth slowing down for, reflecting upon, and cherishing fondly.
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Purchase Traveling Mercies from Emily Scott Robinson
Seth of Lampasas
March 20, 2019 @ 9:10 am
Thanks for the heads up
March 20, 2019 @ 9:11 am
March 20, 2019 @ 9:13 am
Songs, voice, production…she is the real deal. Thanks for sharing!
March 20, 2019 @ 10:01 am
This is impressive. Songwriting is really good. My only criticism is that the whole album has the same tone.
March 21, 2019 @ 3:50 pm
Agreed. Talented lady.. I’d like to catch up with her a couple albums from now.
March 20, 2019 @ 10:22 am
Echoing everyone above, this is a delight and an instant purchase. Thank you for bringing attention to this record!
March 20, 2019 @ 10:36 am
This is an amazing album. I don’t say that lightly. A must listen!!
March 20, 2019 @ 11:07 am
Thank you for posting this review. I’m listening now, and instantly love it. Her voice, words, and simple arrangements are beautiful.
March 20, 2019 @ 11:34 am
”In an economy of words and sounds, she conveys as many details as necessary for you to walk in her shoes, or the shoes of her characters and feel the full breadth of their experience.”
Trigger, your game gets better by the day .EXCELLENT review , excellent observations and if I were ESR I’d be lobbying you to be my publicist if not my manager .
In the intimacy of her approach this young singer/songwriter is mining a musical style which not only few others are but even fewer are doing with such old soul wisdom and skill . What is not to love about the arrangements ? She tells the story like you are sitting across from her over coffee …..like you are the only person listening ……..and you CARE . She never forces you to pay attention ….she discloses in measure and you simply DO .
I would suggest that her vocal style is very similar to Musgraves or Kim Ritchie, Mindy Smith …Joan Baez or Courtney Andrews in that there is NO sign of ‘ cultural appropriation ‘ in it ….no forced twang ….no rap-isms , no ‘over-the-top’ , no fake anything . And this just supports the honesty we already feel in her narratives .
One last comment about her vocal performances which , again , are reminiscent of the aforementioned artists in this way : I can understand every word she says without straining or listening several times . I think its not only on the artist but on the producer to ensure this is the case each and every time out when an artists’ ability to resonate is so dependent upon the lyric and the narrative .
This is an artist I WANT to listen to .
And again , Trigger ….stellar job .
March 20, 2019 @ 12:21 pm
Thanks for this review.
Have been listening to it on Spotify
First what I found most positive about this album. First of all her lyrics, they are wonderful!! I loved six of them instantly. The two songs “Overalls” and “A ghost In Every Town” I can relate to them it feels like she wrote them for me…
And “Dress” It’s one of the most brilliantly written song about rape I’ve heard and far as I know self biographic.
But all the songs are really good. And I love the sparse prodution.
The only issue I have with the production is, as so many times before, there is a little to much reverb/echo on her voice.
But apart from that, this one of best album I’ve heard in a long time.
March 20, 2019 @ 12:39 pm
Beautiful album!! I went to college with Emily; she was on my freshman dorm hall. She would sit in the hall with her guitar playing songs while I was doing my homework. It was dreamy. DREAMY. Her voice is stronger now than it was then, but I remember thinking then that she was more than just another person who can sing. Also just FYI she is a great person.
March 20, 2019 @ 1:38 pm
Wow, fantastic. She has such a beautiful voice and is strong story teller. I will be streaming her record for sure!
Thanks for the find Trigger!
Emily Scott Robinson
March 20, 2019 @ 6:15 pm
ESR here- Trigger, thank you for the glowing review. I’m honored! Thank you for using your platform to share my new record with your followers. I’m incredibly grateful! Love!
March 20, 2019 @ 6:25 pm
Emily, I would love to purchase your album, sounds fantastic. Anyway I could get the CD autographed once the order goes through?
Emily Scott Robinson
March 20, 2019 @ 6:27 pm
Absolutely, Daniel! I actually sign all of my CDs that I mail out, even though it doesn’t say so on my store. 😉 I’ll autograph it to you when the order goes through!
March 21, 2019 @ 5:16 am
A reply from the reviewed artist! How cool is that? Count me as a new fan, Emily.
March 21, 2019 @ 9:34 am
Congrats on a superb effort Emily .
March 21, 2019 @ 2:57 am
This is that kind of album that you can rediscover at every subsequent hearing. Deep and beautiful music. Real gem.
March 21, 2019 @ 4:41 am
Great album. It reminds of Kacey Musgraves’ first album (that’s a compliment).
March 21, 2019 @ 6:13 am
I’ll take her word for it that she’s a mess, but anyone can see she’s definitely white hot.
March 23, 2019 @ 7:22 am
9.5? I don’t see it. She’s good, but she’s still got a ways to go before she gets to where, say, Courtney Marie Andrews or Jamie Lin Wilson are today. Hope she gets there, but she ain’t made it yet.
March 25, 2019 @ 8:42 am
I hate chiming in with an opinion on only 1 listen of a song or 2. I actually just got a chance to sit and listen to the full album this morning with my coffee and it is a very good collection of songs no doubt. I personally usually prefer songs with full instrumentation for the most part and a few of these have that (even though Sarah Shook’s – Seven album has been in my rotation for 3 months). Pie Song and Shoshone Rose are in that vein. I love it. “Run” is a powerful song as is “The Dress”. I’ll have to play it a few more times maybe even change the track order but I’m pretty sure it’ll be in the rotation soon. Solid effort to be proud of Em.
March 26, 2019 @ 3:04 pm
Terrific review of a really special album. The only part of your review I have to take issue with (am I really the first person to point this out?) is your description of ‘The Dress’ as being about “an unwanted sexual episode”. Ummmm… being drugged and raped is not “an unwanted sexual episode”. It’s a violent crime.
April 10, 2019 @ 6:38 am
Not disputing in the least that it is a violent crime but she is writing from the woman’s perspective, and there are so many times when women try to blame themselves and go over what they could have done differently, as we all do when something tragic happens. I think that is what she is trying to get across.
April 4, 2019 @ 11:27 am
This arrived in the mail today (vinyl). I can’t find anything wrong with this album. Powerful but subtle voice. Great guitar player too. This won’t be leaving my turntable for a while and i have about 15 records to get to!
April 5, 2019 @ 1:17 pm
Great vocals and top-notch songwriting. An excellent find!
April 9, 2019 @ 7:22 pm
Is there a link anywhere for a media download.
April 10, 2019 @ 6:35 am
OMG! I listened to this on the way to work, thanks to your advice. She reminds me of Nanci Griffin when she was young. Great production, songwriting and vocal delivery. You picked another one that will be a classic.
December 7, 2019 @ 6:09 am
I bought this album several months ago and still find so much pleasure from listening to it. She is one of the most talented, thoughtful, creative singers I had the joy of seeing in person in 2019. I hope she stays on the scene and makes an even bigger splash in 2020!