If you’re in Austin this week, one performer to check out at SXSW is "ghost folk" artist Allysen Callery. Hailing from tiny Rhode Island, she was just selected as one of 40 “intriguing” artists to watch at SXSW by NPR critic Bob Boilen. Although she is pretty well known in New England (2012 Providence Phoenix Singer-Songwriter of the Year), and has a dedicated following in Europe and Australia, she’s yet to break out on the national scene. Her recent release, Mumblin’ Sue, could change that.
British Folk Influence
Callery lives by the ocean in Bristol, Rhode Island, across the pond from Bristol, UK. Her style is heavily influenced by the British Folk Revival of the 1960s and early 70s. In an interview she noted, “I grew up listening to my father's old Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention records. When I started writing music of my own, it was noted in some of the first reviews that the 'ghost of British Isles Folk' was in my music.”
She’s recorded several albums that show that influence, most recently, Mumblin’ Sue, released in June of 2013. The collection of songs is notable for its intricate guitar work - no overdubs here - just pure melodic magic. In fact her fingerpicked guitar feels more like her singing partner; sometimes leading her, other times, seemingly answering her lyrics. The interplay between her voice and her guitar is unique.
Her lyrics are just on the edge of surreal, slightly off center, and intensely passionate. Her voice is unique, but not unfamiliar. Sounding a little like early Joni Mitchell, with a voice airy and mystical, she’s a fairy whisperer. But her words speak to the human experience. In “The Hollow,” she asks…
In Your Hollow
Do You Collect the Sunlight
In Your Hollow
On the brilliant “Lily of the Valley,” her nuanced guitar work equals her understated delivery.
Someone had to be the hard headed hammer
Well let me be the part that pries the nails out
When all of the walls built between us are gone
We’ll lie in the grass
In the warm sun
She has some fun on this album too. On the delicate “I Had a Lover I Thought Was My Own,” the narrator falls for the town gigolo. In “My Carolina,” whimsical lyrics match an upbeat tempo…
Meet Me Midnight
Soft step candlelight
And I’ll slip inside
I’m on fire driving down your highway
Callery’s warmth and delicate delivery comes through in concert; her “look” is reminiscent of early Joan Baez. There’s a lot going on in her music, and it’s well worth a listen. No doubt, there are many talented artists deserving of more widespread recognition – Allysen Callery is one of them.