If you check the credits under photos of some of our most acclaimed musicians in recent years, there's a fair chance they were taken by Ebony Lamb. She’s a practitioner of many arts, and photography is one that’s risen to the top of the pile.
As has being a musician. She fronted the band Eb and Sparrow for a number of years, earning acclaim from the likes of Nick Bollinger along the way. And just recently she released her self-titled solo debut, with assistance from none other than Bic Runga and Kody Nielson.
That’s ‘My Daughter My Sister My Son’, which starts the album, notable straight away for Lamb’s keening delivery, gliding down the notes before swooping into something smokier for the pre-chorus. It’s also immediately sparse, confident that bass and mellotron is all that’s needed to fill out the slightly haunted sound. Kody Nielson’s busy drum fills do the rest.
He and Bic Runga co-produced the album, providing a remarkable steady quartet of hands to cushion these finely tuned ballads. Aural flourishes are few, but when they arise, like the vinyl crackle on ‘Come Put a Record On’, prove thematically apt.
Elsewhere on ‘Take My Hands at Night’, Runga’s bass gets the occasional daub of effects, so it periodically jumps out of the mix. Lamb sings about not recognising herself while she’s - presumably - lost in love, or maybe lust. There’s a reference to splitting in two, which might mean a breakup, before she sings “I can do this”. It’s at this point the bass pops to your attention, underlying the moment of self-belief.
Those washes of tremolo guitar come courtesy of Gram Antler, rarely obtrusive, but suiting the track’s quiet insistence.
The album was recorded on vintage analogue gear and mastered to tape, and is subsequently rich and warm. There’s the feeling that great care was taken with these songs, which were written over five years, and sound like it: their strength comes from consideration rather than flight of fancy.
The selection of sounds is basically the same throughout, but it speaks to the strength of songwriting that less is more. When ‘Drive Me Around’ reaches another mellotron-fuelled chorus and Lamb’s voice reaches to that yearning upper register, nothing else is needed to stay transfixing.
With references to “Brothers, sisters, lovers”, that track calls back to the album opener, and throughout, Ebony Lamb favours similarly broad statements: “Put a record on”, “I still want you to drive me around”, “Brother get me home”. Much like the music, there’s room to breathe, and interpret.
It’s telling that Kody Nielson has dropped the highly compressed, overloaded sound that’s coloured much of his output for this release, and in conjunction with Bic Runga, understands that this music needs to float, rather than charge.
It’s a really well thought-out album, each song simmering with meaning, and always led by Lamb’s voice, which flits between ranges, and finds the best in each one. Whether hopeful, mourning, or something in between, every word is sung like she truly means it.