Ellen M. Wilson
The basic goal and the unerring quest of the Sufi poets—particularly of the Sufi mystics of the medieval era (Rumi, Hafiz, Omar Khayyam)—was to become one with their beloved. The beloved often being not merely an earthly, carnal version of someone they merely wanted to hook up with, but The Beloved: God, the Supreme Being, the Universe. These Sufi mystics aspired toward a Divine Love. They were seekers of Truth. And they wrote and sang about that love and those aspirations in a way that was sometimes direct, sometimes not, but always heartfelt and spiritual. The same can be said of Ellen M. Wilson. She sings sometimes directly, sometimes not, but always heartfelt and with spirituality and passion. And without being corny, obvious, or preachy. And the music backing her is neither maudlin nor treacly and thankfully never veers into the self-consciousness of a Lilith Fair princess.
Wilson bears no small resemblance to sinewy operatic rock bands like Evanescence and Flyleaf, which mix in tough crunchy guitars and soaring synthesizers beneath and sometimes over the ethereal and sometimes dreamy vocals of their frontwomen (Amy Lee of Evanescence and Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf). Wisely, or maybe fatefully, she chose as her producer T.L. Brown, a songwriter whose musical sensibilities seem to mesh perfectly with the potential and the range of Wilson’s formidable and sublime voice.
These songs—where Sufi meets soul but almost on every cut armed with either an awesome guitar riff or a soaring synthesizer—range from hard rock to country rock to dance club. “Someday” moves from a familiar country rock AM-station number to one where Wilson’s voice carries it to a higher level. Similarly, “Alone” recalls the piano work of Styx and the vocals of Pat Benatar, but the musicians, all from El Paso and all doing great work here—from guitarist Armin Harrison, bassist Dave Hamilton, drummers Danny Sullivan and Justin Conrow—and Brown’s piano-playing and arrangements complement Wilson’s emotionally poignant vocals in a way that’s not only supportive but true to the uplift of the lyrics.
“Shelter Me” and “For You” also kick ass—musically and vocally. They pack an emotional wallop. The guitars are big and gritty, the synthesizers equally large and lofty, and the arrangement always plays off the subtle spiritual mood that’s always there if you want it, but not overly present that it’s in your face.
On “I Will Try,” Wilson works her voice in a way that’s texturally distinct from her other songs. She somehow manages to sing—“I will try/learning along the way . . . I won’t give up/I will be whole someday,” lyrics about change and growth, or trying to change and grow—in a voice that’s younger, less mature, striving. Striving while retaining the strength underneath that’s identifiably Wilson’s.
“It’s Alright” opens with more of an easy-listening vibe. But it’s Culture Club laziness is deceptive, giving way halfway through to a more interesting tempo, a lift in spirit. Again, there’s an almost mystical quality to Wilson’s singing here, to the music and the words. She sings about lifting her eyes to the mountain—the way some of the great Sufi mystics sang of their experiences with the divine. And it can’t be a mere coincidence that Wilson lives in a desert as stark and unforbidding but as spiritually inspiring—yes, El Paso—as that inhabited by the medieval Persians.
“Rise” is particularly stirring. Wilson’s voice here is at its clearest and richest. And why wouldn’t it be? “I know from deep within that I was born to rise . . . in my hands my future lies.” How could she not sing with total clarity and purpose?
It’s on “Destiny,” though, where Wilson truly sings of praise and pursuit. Backed by a beat that’s more early Madonna or Sheena Easton (in her Prince days) than the CD’s more metal-driven tracks, “Destiny” finds Wilson singing of “The path we take creates the shape and form of the key.” And that “destiny’s visage is unique/it’s yours and yours alone.” Among the mystics, they often sang of visages and the awesomeness and wonder of God’s visage. They also sang of The One, just as Wilson does: “The pathway with our final goal: the One that’s always near.”
Wilson gives the impression—lyrically and musically—that she’s after something bigger and deeper than a mere Top 40 finish or a dance-club hit. She certainly has the voice to back it up.
Latest Destiny Album Review at Neufutur.com
Destiny’s Alone is a track that will immediately bring listeners on board with Ellen M. Wilson. This track needs little more than vocals and a piano to shine; the resulting track uses the interplay of human and instrumental efforts to draw listeners into the fold. Shelter Me possesses a foreboding feel to the track that ties together equal amounts Nightwish and Evanescence with Switchblade Symphony. Each element of Wilson’s band is brilliant here, while the production allows for considerable delineation of each element. This results in a much more clear effort than many we have heard. I Will Try is a track that feels destined for Broadway; the soaring vocals present here are endearing, while the softly-spoken piano matches up perfectly. Hints of Tori Amos can be heard here, while Wilson’s overall effort could easily make it up adult contemporary charts.
It’s Alright is a track that works perfectly, no matter what sorts of music that a listener may dig. This is because the composition is buttery smooth, with the instrumental arrangement providing the perfect highlighting for Wilson’s vocals. Destiny is the perfect closing track for the titular album; I feel it touches just as much as what was captured during Destiny’s runtime as what will be explored by Wilson in the future. A second set of vocals pushes the track to an entirely new plateau, and gives listeners more than enough reason to stick around for the second half of Destiny. Make sure to see Wilson on a set of tour dates in New Mexico and Texas in the next month, and check her website out for more information about the woman and her music.
Top Tracks: Shelter Me, I Will Try
- Devon Jackson
“Destiny,” Ellen Wilson — El Paso
vocalist/songwriter Ellen Wilson’s newest
offering is another example of her ability to
mesh segments of faith and inspiration with
clean, clear vocals and flowing melody.
More pop/rock-infused than her earlier
disc, “Songs of Ascent,” Wilson’s sound is still
The album starts out strong with the
world-uniting invitation, “Someday,” and it
continues to flow smoothly throughout. A
standout for me was “For You,” featuring a
rock anthem-inspired intro and motivating
rhythm. These two selections alone are
worth giving the CD a listen, but that’s not
to say Wilson doesn’t deliver a satisfying
musical experience altogether. This is one of
those rare albums with no “skip over” songs
or low points.
Although “Destiny” demonstrates and
Wilson’s ability to experiment and evolve as
a musician, fans of her work won’t be disappointed
with the results. Likewise, those just
discovering her music should find this album
enjoyable enough to want to delve back into
her earlier work.
“Destiny” is simply a beautiful listen from
beginning to end, and it’s refreshing to see a
local talent who can not only grow as a performer,
but also remain true to herself in the
— Lisa Kay Tate
Who are you and how long have you been active?
Ellen M. Wilson. I’ve been performing professionally for more than 30 years…it all started with a rock band in high school while I was also studying classical music.
What trends will be big in the next year?
I wouldn’t bank on my opinion, but increased diversity that will be harder to categorize, and more independent artists moving to the forefront, thanks to the many digital means for promoting their music as well as the ability to create a higher-end product that is more competitive.
How does a track move from initial thought to finished effort?
For me, the songwriting and recording journey reflects a collaborative effort. I write down lots of ideas, often as prose, rarely as poetry at first. Once I did have an early-morning idea that came as a complete song, words and music, but that is rare for me (that is a song we are putting on the next album). When T. L. (T.L. Brown, my producer and songwriting partner) and I write a song together, one of us will have an initial idea of what we want the song to be about. Sometimes I am the one to have the musical idea first; sometimes T. L. does. We bat around ideas at first, then sit down to more formally construct a song. Once we sit down to write the song, it gets done pretty quickly, since I usually will not stop until the song is done. T.L. then goes into his studio lair and arranges the song so we have a map for the musicians to follow in the studio. Next he coaches my vocal performance of the song, telling me how he envisions me singing it. Sometimes that can be tough, because I may have had the original idea and then I have to essentially re-learn my own song! But he is always right; the song is always on another level completely by the time we finish the recording. He understands my voice incredibly well and he gets me to do all kinds of new vocal stylizations. Invariably, the finished product is often one I might not have anticipated, which is absolutely magical. What more could a performer and songwriter want?
How has your style evolved and changed over the time since you first started? Where do you think that your overall sound will go to in the months and years in the future?
First, I have to clarify that, although I was writing songs in high school and college, my focus was on classical music studies and professional musical theater and other kinds of performance after college for a long time. I only started writing songs again in the last few years, but I’ve been absorbing different musical styles as well as writing prosaically for various jobs all these years. I’ve also been journaling for years, and all the influences and ideas are coming out in the songs. I don’t like to anticipate where my writing will go-that would only limit what might suddenly inspire me. I’m continually being touched by new things all the time, but I’m also reaching into the past, pulling from my greatest influences, such as my fascination with the music of the psychedelic 60s, which you will hear in a couple of songs on the next album, although the songs will have been “TLified”, my term for the magical way that TL arranges songs I’ve brought to him. Also, for this next project, T.L. and I will continue to explore symphonic styles, electronic sounds, world components, pure rock elements, and as many other stylistically diverse ways to express our lyric ideas as possible.
On any Youtube video, there are countless genres thrown around for any song. How does that help or hurt music and musicians, and what genre(s) would your music fall into?
We decided to label the music Adult Contemporary, although some songs lean toward soft rock, some toward pop. The countless genres being thrown around reflect every musician jumping into the marketplace and having to label his/her own music. It’s a challenge. Labels are part of the marketing aspect, to direct listeners or rather, to aim the music at a particular demographic. It’s necessary for marketing purposes, but really, it’s a false label. Think of some of your favorite bands – they are hard to categorize or you may have your own way of describing the sound that your best friend would completely contradict – and that’s fantastic, that is creative.
How do you feel things are different musically and culturally between parts of the United States and the rest of the world?
Since I spend time in academia as well as the popular music scene, this is a particularly interesting question to me. The world is getting smaller, for sure, and popular music is growing around the world. Thanks to the Internet, there is more give and take between artists around the world, with more collaborations taking place between artists of different countries. I have connected with artists from South American countries, for example, and discussed potential joint projects, which is so much easier to do these days without even traveling.
Musicians usually talk about a dream concert, or those earlier acts they would like to play with. What would be your dream lineup?
Seriously, my dream concert would involve having Sir George Martin arrange my songs for chorus and orchestra, then conduct the orchestra and chorus in a live performance.
What role does alcohol and other recreational drugs play in regards to music?
For me? None. I have a ten-year old. Really. Besides, I’m far crazier sober…
Continuing to perform at new venues and introducing the music to new listeners is the focus for the rest of this year, as well as starting songwriting for the next album. I recently sat down with a philanthropist friend to discuss possible collaborations with area non-profits, and we discussed creating a new model for the way I perform my music. We will be developing this idea further in the coming year, so stay tuned… Non-profits or volunteer organizations that wish to host a concert should send a request through the ellenmwilson.com website contact form.
Joining my email list through my Website and liking my Facebook page are two easy ways to connect. Love to hear from our listeners…
Any other thoughts for NeuFutur readers?
Well, in this age of single downloads over an entire album, this recording was created to be enjoyed from start to finish. Take a listen and then tell me on my Facebook page what you think? Do you like the entire album? Are there certain songs you connect with? I’m also fascinated by the idea of seeking points of connection between ourselves and others, especially those with whom we think we have nothing in common. The more we see what we share with others, without needing to be the same, the closer we just might get to finding solutions to our world problems that will benefit everyone.
How can people contact you?
My website, www.ellenmwilson.com is a great place to start. From there, you can get to the Ellen M. Wilson Facebook page, Reverbnation, Youtube, etc. and connect to me and T.L., as well as to other people who like the music.
Read more: http://neufutur.com/ellen-m-wilson-interviewed/#ixzz2IwwqP6Og
Concert update: Ellen M. Wilson, Bun B, Michael Anaya, EP Opera, Bart Crow
With new album "Destiny," released on Aug. 14, Wilson lands with both feet firmly in the world of adult contemporary pop.
The songs, written and recorded with producer T.L. Brown, continue her emphasis on the positive, as evidenced in cuts like the keyboard-laden "It's Alright," which features some elaborately layered vocals.
But Wilson, who'll headline a free release concert at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at Ardovino's Desert Crossing, said the indie release on the Tate Music Group label could get her career to a higher place.
"In a sense, this release and the party are just the beginning of a big push to get some attention from a record label that will take things to another level and help T.L. and I release a second album together," Wilson says.
There's a video for "Alone" already in the can, and producer Brown will be in town in the fall to shoot videos for "For You" and "It's Alright." They plan to start work on a followup then.
You can sample the music from "Destiny," which was funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts and El Paso's Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, at ellenmwilson.com.
The release show will feature pianist Ruben Gutierrez, drummer Ricky Malichi, guitarist Armin Harrison, bassist Dave Hamilton and "special guests."
I did hear an advance copy of Wilson’s [CD], a bold followup to her 2008 Jewish text-based CD Songs of Ascent. While a line from “It’s Alright” invokes Psalm 121, Wilson’s new CD (Destiny) generally moves from Jewish/spiritual into more textured adult contemporary/pop as she spreads her wings as a writer (she wrote no songs on her first CD, but co-wrote all songs on the new CD) and as a vocalist (the coloratura soprano induces goosebumps on “Shelter Me” with how she starts a phrase on a very high note). Swirling together electric guitar, strings, and pristine piano with varied dynamics, the arrangements are atmospheric enough to serve as soundtrack for a movie scene – a scene of someone standing out in the elements, yearning for change and redemption.
El Pasoan reimagines Hebrew music Doug Pullen / El Paso Times EL PASO -- Ellen M. Wilson is Jewish, and most of her new CD, "Songs of Ascent," is sung in Hebrew. But don't for a minute think its familiar, Psalm-based songs and messages of healing and spiritual transcendence are just preaching to the converted. "I didn't want it to be just about religion," Wilson said. "I wanted it to be very transcendent." "Songs" may take its text from biblical Hebrew phrases and Jewish liturgy, but musically, it has an ethereal quality to it, with lush, layered harmonies contrasted by Wilson's soaring coloratura soprano. It's a warm sound that recalls Enya's soothing Celtic incantations and Loreena McKennitt's haunting medieval resurrections. There's a little Tori Amos thrown in, plus touches of jazz, contemporary folk-pop and traditional Middle Eastern strains. The CD came at a time of transition for Wilson, a voice lecturer at UTEP who grew up in Illinois and lived in North Carolina before moving to El Paso with husband Steve in 2001. Their son, Zach, was born a year later. Wilson, who has a bachelor's in music from the University of Illinois and a master's from Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., has sung in classical and musical theater settings in the past. She's also a classically trained singer who has been a cantorial soloist at Temple Mount Sinai and in Across the Ages, a duo specializing in Baroque and Renaissance music. But she longed to do something different musically. A variety of elements fell into place, some good, some heartbreaking. Pivotal was her meeting with Scott Leader, a young up-and-comer in the Jewish rock music community who helped Temple Mount Sinai produce a CD. "I loved what he did and ... you know how it is when you kind of click creatively with someone who is like-minded," she said. "All of the sudden, the potential for a really exciting project was there." Leader said the Enya approach was by design. "Our original thought was to make something to show that she can take her classically trained opera voice and bring it down to a more folk level," Leader said by e-mail. "As we decided on which songs to do, I realized that they were all very well-known melodies. This brought up the thoughts on how to make this CD different than the 9,000 other versions of some of these songs out there." While kicking around those ideas with her Phoenix-based producer, Wilson was moved by the movie "The Secret," TV veteran Rhonda Byrnes' inspirational message about how to tap into one's spirituality for self-improvement. Wilson had studied with the film's featured speaker, Bob Proctor. "He encouraged the participants to ... create a really big goal," she said. "Just having met Scott, I began realizing that the next big project for me musically was to make this CD." Wilson was also mourning the death of her father, Alex Pollak, a Holocaust survivor who died last year, soon after the recording of Wilson's five-song, Leader-produced CD, "T'filat Ha-Adam: Prayers of the Heart." "That further spurred me on just to make something really special in this year of mourning," she said. "In Judaism, you mourn for a year for a parent, and a friend said I should distinguish this year in some way." Rabbi Larry Bach of Temple Mount Sinai had encouraged her to branch out musically. "He had me singing repertoire I hadn't sung before. I usually do a more classical repertoire. This was more poppy, contemporary stuff," she explained. "It made me feel as if I was coming full circle because in my high-school days and when I first went to college, I was in rock bands doing all kinds of naughty things sopranos aren't supposed to do." She's referring to her voice. For the Beatles-loving woman with the classically trained voice, it was the right time to make this record. "I really felt -- and I know it sounds crazy -- that everything came together in my project, using the lyric approach, training in the classical lyric technique, in service of this music that felt really spiritual to me." The CD is being promoted nationally. Wilson has a publicist in Boston. She's starting to get some airplay, including "The Jewish Show of Houston," which aired her version of the folk song "Lo Yisa Goy," prompting host Shawn Daniel to rave about her "amazing voice." Reviews are starting to roll in as well, mostly from various music Web sites. "Where there seems to be a division made with current artists between the vocal and the instrumental, Wilson's blending of the two distinct segments creates something that is fresh and exciting," wrote neufutur.com. "There may not be a driving drum beat or guitars shredding their way through the tracks on 'Songs of Ascent,' but the intricate vocal arrangements that are par for the course on 'Songs of Ascent' will get listeners excited and eagerly anticipating the next track." A reviewer for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (acousticmusic.com/fame) wasn't very enthusiastic about the religious and spiritual themes, but praised the songs as "very tuneful, keeping away from New Age-ry by virtue of a folkish and lightly classical resonance, and Wilson has a soothing, beautiful and uplifting voice well-backed by a number of accomplished instrumentalists." Wilson is happy to get good reviews, but seems more inspired by the reactions she's getting from people of all faiths. "I've had such great feedback from friends who are Catholic, New Agey and not religious at all, all across the spectrum," she said, obviously pleased. "I think the melodies and performance at face value are very good and can be enjoyed even without thinking about the Hebrew texts involved," Leader added. "That's very much who I am and what I wanted to express -- something very spiritual," Wilson said. "It's the same idea as Enya singing Celtic songs. It's not meant to be religion music." Doug Pullen may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6397. Copyright (c) 2008 El Paso Times, a MediaNews Group Newspaper.