Erica Sunshine Lee, a self proclaimed “Georgia Gypsy”, has carved out quite a reputation in the country music community for her vocal and songwriter talents. She’s gotten her skill set over for obvious reasons, but an additional factor is her tireless commitment to keeping the fires burning with live appearances and projects galore; she’s far from some studio rat isolated from the desires of modern audiences. Her music reflects both her personal experiences and intimate knowledge of what connects with fans of this genre. The fifteen songs on her seventh and latest studio release, Elixir, cover a wide gamut of approaches and themes within the country music genre while incorporating moments of genuine rock music muscle that give added heft to her tunes. She can hit the mainstream with solid commercial tunes, lay back with luxurious ballads, and offer up evidence of her considerable gifts as a storyteller while sounding comfortable with any direction.
Elixir opens up quite memorably with the song “Shut Up Heart”. It’s successful on a number of levels. It first proves, yet again, Lee’s enormous talent for writing accessible material that’s sure to connect with the widest possible audience for this music. The track has breezy, relaxed confidence to match its energetic tempo and some rock lead guitar sprinkled throughout for a little extra attitude. “The Bottle Ain’t Enough” keeps things centered on the lighter sounds of acoustic guitars and judiciously used electric guitars, but it has every bit of the kick listeners associate with rock music. It never errs too far to one side, however, and the balance she keeps between the country and rock attitude helps make the song even better. The soulful piano work that makes up the bulk of the melody in “My Favorite Word” sets a first class stage for one of Lee’s best singing performances on Elixir. The drumming on this song is another difference maker as it anchors a number of the composition’s key turns.
The piano propelled shuffle of “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” has a light melancholy undertow and even a faint Southwestern flavor thanks to the reverb applied to the guitar. Lee’s vocal has a sort of laid back, slightly rueful tone and she takes great care with the lyrics’ phrasing requirements. It’s easy to love the music on “Pills and Booze” while feeling a little ambivalent about the lyric content. Lee stresses a little too much about writing songs with reckless behavior as its subject matter – references to drugs and alcohol abound in the lyrics and song titles. It has its most depth here. This song really doesn’t romanticize the activity but, instead, portrays it as a byproduct of intense personal pain. “Mustard Seed” is another fine ballad, but has a different approach than other similar efforts on Elixir. Piano is a secondary instrument here and the majority of the arrangement moves forward thanks to acoustic guitar and vocals. This is one of Lee’s best songs on Elixir and shows a much more nuanced side than the album’s more commercial efforts.
“Two Words” is the album’s penultimate cut and one of the most rousing rock-influenced works on Elixir. Lee delivers a real foot-stomping, energetic vocal that builds on the great musicianship. Lee’s seventh album shows no sign of a slowing creativity or waning energy. Instead, she sounds just as engaged with this genre and the fruits it bears for her artistically as ever before. The fifteen tracks on this album have a consistency that’s a testament to her continually growing talents.