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Acclaimed Canadian Erin Costelo Brings Experimental Soul With ‘Down Below, The Status Quo’ (Album Review)

There are times when an artist is so talented and interested in so many diverse styles of music that it takes some time to focus the disparate elements into one compelling package. That statement applies to Nova Scotia’s Erin Costelo, who writes, sings , arranges, and produces. This album, Down Below, The Status Quo was nominated for a total of 12 awards in Canada, winning Producer of the Year and Solo Recording of the Year. It is a genre defying, contemplative piece, ranging in emotion from defiance and  desperation to hope and strength.

Some have already compared Costelo’s effect to that of Nina Simone – high praise indeed.  For me,we need a much broader body of work than simply one album to put her on that level but Costelo offers a unique sound with soothing, soulful vocals. She’s had the opportunity to open for Mavis Staples, Dr. John, and Bettye Lavette and has recently performed with Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band. Suffice it to say, she’s making impressions with the right people.

Her previous album, We Can Get Over, tapped into vintage soul music influences and while this album retains those, there is more experimentation and subtle incorporation of her love for classical and electronic music here. Costelo claims to have spent nearly in a year in the studio with experimentation as her mandate, honing it down to these ten tracks. She claims that one track was recorded with nine different arrangements until she found the one that felt right.

Costelo describes her previous album as awash in the bliss of a budding relationship, but this one is more wide ranging in emotion, touching on the realities of life, and becoming vulnerable in the process. She wants each song to stand on its own and colored them that way, adding strings to some, horns to others, and using spare arrangements for some too. Songs such as “Fighter” “Low,” and “Titanic” (written with Stephen fearing of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings) take on reality directly while “Move” and “Turn It On” exemplify strength and hope.

Costelo has previous experience writing for Symphony Nova Scotia and the Blue Engine String Quartet but electronic music was a major part of her formal education. Songwriting didn’t emerge until she had spent some time in Toronto where she felt that people didn’t easily connect to her classical compositions.  She released her first album upon her return to Cape Breton in 2007.  Her We Can Get Overwas named R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 2014 East Coast Music Awards.

By her own admission Costelo admits that she’s led a fragmented musical life, having compartmentalized electronic and classical music apart from her singer-songwriter side. Here she feels that she’s effectively synthesized those elements into one coherent piece for the first time. Make her discovery yours – now we can add Costelo’s music to the many things we love about Nova Scotia – ice cream, lobster, breathtaking scenery, and surprisingly warm ocean waters.

Original article via Glide Magazine, written by Jim Hynes