This week’s episode is staying local. I have a hard time thinking of a more worthy artist for me to shine a spotlight on than one Emmeline Miles, Dallas-area singer-songwriter and the hippest boss I’ve ever had. As a result, the only musician to date whose debut album features yours truly playing percussion is the subject in this week’s nobody-listens-to-this post.
NOTE: Emmeline really needs to upload more videos to youtube. In the meantime, higher-quality versions of the songs I write about below can be found at her facebook and on her personal website (links below).
Emmeline is unique among the bands and artists I’ve thus far written about in that I knew the person before I’d heard her music. I met Emmeline at a Starbucks coffee in Dallas in May of 2009. I was interviewing for a job as a camp counselor at a School of Rock-style summer camp, and the diminutive Emmeline Miles was playing the role of camp director. While Camp Jam was full of adventures and misadventures, it is truly the less interesting side of this story. By the end of the camp I’d gone to see Emmeline perform and been drawn in by her piano-driven brand of pop.
Emmeline was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, but really began her career as a performer in southern California while attending Scripps College. Since her return to the Dallas-Fort Worth “Metroplex” Emmeline has perhaps been the epitome of a local act. Writing music, teaching lessons, recording two EPs, and gigging heavily the young singer-songwriter has made friends into fans (and vice-versa) through her wide-eyed gratitude for their continued attendance at her shows. Also, she’s a pretty talented pianist and songwriter with a voice that makes audiences set their coffee down and wonder why they hadn’t been paying attention before.
After months of passing around homemade sampler CDs, Emmeline released her first official studio work in late 2010’s Early Morning Hours. The seven-song EP showcases the artist’s work and range mightily: from song to song the mood and genre shift widely from dark to light and jazz to folk. Running across all of this are Emmeline’s unmistakable voice and diction. The artist herself frequently laments the propensity of modern pop songwriters to avoid any words that are more that two syllables, and consequently has made a concerted effort towards the contrary. The main characters in the EP-opening “The Story” are named Miranda and Sebastian (possible Shakespearean references and three-plus syllable names). Early Morning Hours then reaches from the broken-hearted ballad “Give a Damn” to the self-esteem boosters of “I Could be Good” and “A Hundred Years”. At the center of it all is the fan favorite “Not That Girl”, a “dirty jazz” number with a piano ostinato that matches the tune’s lyrics in slinkiness. Each track on Early Morning Hours has its own attitude, both musically and lyrically. This characteristic of Emmeline’s music is really a great part of what makes her stand out, as to wedge the singer into a genre may be an exercise in futility. Emmeline’s songs are undoubtedly pop songs, but they are also without exception much more complicated than standard fare seems to be. Whether it’s a jazz lick in this verse or a hemiola turnaround in that chorus, the songs on Early Morning Hours are poppy tunes more closely related to Tori Amos than Miley Cyrus.
Emmeline’s follow-up to Early Morning Hours is Someone to Be, released almost exactly a year after the debut. The album is more thematic from the start, taking up the banner of encouraging young people to overcome any obstacles in their paths. Tracks such as “Someone to Be”, “All the Reasons Why”, and “Fly” all have a can-do feel to them, and the singer takes on the role of a close friend reminding the listener that they are special and loved. This isn’t to say that there’s not emotional range to the new EP though, as tracks like the Blondie-influenced “Apathetic” and the ominously rolling “Bad Day” allow Emmeline to get a bit angry. The songwriting is once again surprisingly complex, and the vocals are once again impressive, but the star of Someone to Be is Emmeline’s piano. On “Fly” a furious piano solo takes over the end of the tune, and throughout the record the piano lines seem more at the forefront than in the songs of Early Morning Hours. This may be a conscious move, or it may just be that this sophomore release was mixed differently. In either case, the effect is that Someone to Be feels more in-your-face than Early Morning Hours; Emmeline’s debut wanted the listener’s attention and winked and smiled to draw him or her in, while the new release kicks down the door and demands attention.
Emmeline’s live show is also something to note. A brilliant trick of her music is that it would fit backed by a twelve-piece big band just as well as it plays with just the singer and a Yamaha keyboard. In her usual Dallas haunts of small bars and coffeeshops, this is the typical Emmeline live show: a keyboard, a microphone, and a tiny little brunette girl who powers both. While this de facto acoustic setup tends to limit the venues Emmeline can fill, it also keeps an element of intimacy to her performances. The Emmeline that has performed on stage at the Dallas House of Blues and had a standing weekly gig at Lakewood Bar & Grill until it closed is the same artist who plays sitting on the floor in her apartment.
Emmeline has a wide array of sites and pages to visit, but she is most accessible through her official website, her facebook page, and on her twitter handle @emmemusic. Emmeline continues to play locally in the DFW area, as well as nationwide, and hosts an open mic night in Dallas at the Crown & Harp Pub on Greenville Ave. Nobody is listening to Emmeline right now, but her arresting musical talent and her commitment to quality songwriting make her a worthwhile listen, and the artist will stop at no length to endear her fanbase to her. At the end of the day, “pop” is a genre that shouldn’t be written off as simply bad music, and Emmeline is one of a number of artists who offer hope in that regard.