Eleanor Tallie – No Turning Back

Soul and funk music are the predominant influences on Eleanor Tallie’s debut EP No Turning Back, but the most important aspect is the groove. Regardless of genre, Tallie has drafted aid from some top flight musicians capable of thoroughly inhabiting an arrangement with feel and almost metronomic dependability.

Tallie comes off as a veteran performer and young prodigy. She makes decisions regarding phrasing and placement that belies her young age while still infusing every syllable with unmistakable vitality. The production keeps everything warm and balanced but renders the instruments and vocal performances with remarkable fidelity.

The six songs on No Turning Back don’t really break any new musical ground, per se, but illustrate the timelessness of the forms by delivering indelible performances with a maximum of polish and style.

Hell or Heaven opens the EP with special guest Lil Riah joining Tallie. Riah’s inclusion is memorable, but Tallie and her band completely dominate the listener’s attention thanks to the quality of their respective performances. Tallie exhibits unsurprising good sense and veteran performing instincts by weaving her vocal into the arrangement rather than singing over it. Brass, light keyboards, and gloriously syncopated drumming give additional flair to the song.

I Tried nods to Tallie’s funk influences, but this is largely an intensely groove-oriented soul number hinging on a melodic central riff. The keyboards, bass, and guitar double each other on that main figure and it makes for an impressive sound. Tallie’s vocal is quite the pyrotechnic display of phrasing heard on the opener, but it’s still quite good.

Sunlight brings Lil Riah back for a final guest shot and relies on backing and harmony vocals more so than any song before or after. Unlike I Tried, there’s no light nod towards her funk influences. Instead, Tallie brings the proverbial house down with a deeply soulful performance capable of moving all but the most cynical.

My Present is mid-tempo funk with a bite and chops to burn. There’s no question that Tallie chose her collaborators well for this project – any listener would be hard pressed, particularly on songs like My Present, to find a single misplaced note. It’s one of Tallie’s best vocals thanks to the wide emotive range she inhabits.

If duration equals importance, the penultimate track Gotta Be Happy is the centerpiece of No Turning Back. The guitar plays a much more important role in the arrangement than we’ve heard on earlier songs while the bass stays tastefully busy providing occasional flashes of lower-register counterpoint. It’s another vocal gem from Tallie that shows her patience in developing an atmospheric and emotionally expansive interpretation.

The EP’s final song has a surprisingly raucous edge that takes a closer spin towards rock music than anywhere else on the release. Tallie’s far too nuanced as a performer and composer, however, to make things unduly obvious for the listener. A Real Man is much more about dynamics and defiance. There’s a feistiness heard in the lyrics and percolating just beneath the music’s surface. It’s a bracing, though moody, ending to one of the best, fully-rounded debuts in recent memory.

9 out of 10 stars

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