LESSONS LEARNED Callery.
East Bay singer-songwriter-guitarist Allysen Callery returns with another must-hear gem in Mumblin' Sue (75orLess Records), the follow-up to the companion EPs Winter Island and The Summer Place. As expected, Callery's new full-length is nothing less than stellar. The alluring, angelic falsetto and engaging lyrics resonate through Allysen Callery's music more than ever, and a newfound love for (and expert proficiency on) steel strings provide a glowing backdrop for her starry night lullabies.
Her musical inspiration arrived early on thanks to her parents' collection of records: British Isles folk, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and the Incredible String Band. She began playing around age 14 after her father had passed away, and learned the art of finger-picking on his Martin Classical. Mumblin' Sue marks Callery's first official foray playing on steel strings.
"I'd always played nylon strings because my father had, but lately I have been playing and writing in open tunings,which really sing on a steel, so I switched," she said.
"It has opened up a whole new world for me, and I have been writing more than ever."
Callery worked with Eric Lichter at Dirt Floor Studios in Connecticut to cut the new album, which also spawned fantastic local releases by Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons and Brown Bird.
"Eric is a dream to work with — really kind, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth," commended Callery. Lichter helped Callery knock out the entire record in two short days.
As for record label distribution, Callery went the hyper-local route this time around, signing on with Warren-based 75orLess Records following an appearance on label founder Mark MacDougall's "That's Not Incredible" Podcast (definitely worth looking up at 75orless.com). MacDougall continues to accrue top-shelf talent around these parts (Northern Lands, Mark Cutler, etc), and Callery joining the merry band of 75orLess sonic misfits somehow makes sense.
Callery has traveled across Europe promoting her music, and eventually caught the ears of folks at Woodland Recordings in Berlin, which released her previous EPs. "For first two label releases I went halfway around the world, only to get on a label five minutes away from my house!" Callery cracked. A forthcoming vinyl version of Mumblin' Sue will be distributed via German label JellyFant (jellyfant.com). Callery also met artist Will Schaff at the podcast taping, who enthusiastically agreed to create the album's cover art.
I inquired about the album title when I caught up with Callery earlier this week.
"I am a mumbler from way back," she told me. "I think it's a little bit of shyness as well as my own personal style, musically."
Callery boasts a style of folk music all her own, first prevalent on her breakout 2010 album Hobgoblin's Hat (the follow-up to her 2007 debut Hopey), where she "explored deeper and darker memories and feelings" amidst a psychedelic collage cooked up by a backing band. Her lyrical content on Hobgoblin's Hat was often potent and alluring (look up "One-Eyed Cat" and "Favourite Son") and she further ups the ante on Mumblin' Sue.
"I have done my share of living, have made a lot of mistakes, and hopefully have learned a few things," Callery noted. "But I have parts of my psyche that will always be a bit damaged."