Willamette Week - May 2004
More voices mean a greater sound for Amelia's second release.
BY JAY HORTON
"Jigsaw," the first track off Amelia's second album, After All, opens with the drop of a record needle--the hiss of old vinyl almost immediately subsumed by a bristling, confident guitar. It's a wonderful moment and a fair taste of the journey to follow: a journey influenced by the traditional, but constructed and colored by the numerous talents in the band."
"As every profile seems duty-bound to report, nobody within the band is actually named Amelia--though bassist Jesse Emerson insists it's his given name. The heaven-kissed vocals belong to Teisha Helgerson. Four years ago, she sang for R&B band Say Uncle (featuring, yes, two of her uncles) and happened to meet Scott Weddle--at the time, guitarist for Warren Pash. Weddle brought around Emerson and drummer Rich Cuellar, former bandmates of Weddle in the Flatirons. Amelia was formed and soon developed a passionate Northwest following, even before its 2002 debut, Somewhere Left to Fall."
"That album won significant airplay and, along with a series of prominent West Coast gigs, attracted national attention. To support After All, the band has appeared at a Caribbean music conference for radio programmers and played the syndicated radio show Mountain Stage. "When we recorded the first record, those were the only 11 songs we had," Weddle says. "For this, Jesse was writing, Teisha was writing--we had a lot more stuff to choose from. There were a lot of different influences...that had yet to be explored."
"Richie, Jesse, all of us at some point have gone through a major bossa nova phase, we've gone through a country phase, we're all big fans of Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, Joćo Gilberto. Jesse has gone through a Brit-pop phase, Teisha's listened to a lot of jazz and country and soul singers. I can't really get away from the blues, to my own detriment. Our drummer's rockabilly, straight-up swing shuffle."
"Despite the numerous influences, After All isn't exactly eclectic. The instrumental precision and hypnotic vocals enforce a coherency of tone from the Castilian roadhouse dance-party of "Blackbird Pie" through the morphine-drip cabaret of "Et Vous." On the old Memphis jukebox ballad "Better than Sleeping Alone" Helgerson wrangles a gorgeous, deliberate melancholy aside a walking bass and steel guitar in an expansive and hopeful way. The song is Helgerson's own creation, and the band rightly views it as the album's best track."
"Everybody does different things," Weddle says. "If I was left on my own, I'd write songs of a certain type, Jesse would write songs of a certain type, Teisha would write songs. When you get together with people, you write songs for the voice of the band. When you hear a song now, it's Amelia."
"Maybe it's those rainy days, but the Pacific Northwest has been cultivating a unique brand of intimate, back-porch music. But while bands like Vancouver's Be Good Tanyas lean heavily on elements of blues and twang, Portland's Amelia adds a bit of a torch-song feel. Singer Teisha Helgerson's voice is an affecting instrument that is placed right up front in the mix, revealing all of the dewy, slightly rough edges that surround its essential silkiness and power. She is aided by literate songs with heartbreaking melodies composed by her and other members of the band. Composed is the right word: the songs seem well crafted without ever descending into preciousness. Multi-instrumentalist Jesse Emerson's "All But the Sea" sounds like poetry set to music, a dangerous circumstance in all but the deftest hands. Here it works beautifully, dealing with big themes like life, love, and God, saved from pretentiousness by its sparseness of word, its melodic embellishment, and a vocal approach that pervades this album and gives it a timeless quality. At three minutes and seven seconds, the song lasts not a moment longer than it should and you are sorry when it is over. The same could be said for this CD."