Wisconsin native Vicky Emerson’s third full-length album, Wake Me When the Wind Dies Down, is an exceptional entry very much in the same tradition as Lucinda Williams, but also lead by more contemporary influences. The ten song collection is produced by Emerson’s longtime collaborator Matt Patrick and the production does well presenting these tracks in a varied, highly individual manner. Emerson’s years of listening and the time spent around the first rate practitioners of the form has assured her own work contains much of the same musical and lyrical force. While she is the unquestioned star of this enterprise, Patrick’s smart work behind the board strikes an even handed sonic accord for the disparate instruments in play.
Wake Me When the Wind Dies Down opens with “Under My Skin”, an urgent shuffle fleet-footedly straddling a line between bluesy flourishes interspersed with pure country music elements. Emerson has a strong voice and breezy delivery here, but she’s equally capable of landing on certain phrases at key points to ratchet up the drama. “Rattle Shake” tempers its pace in comparison to the first song. Even still, it has the same hard-won authenticity of experience and a tenderly rendered vocal. The same country elements present in “Under My Skin” reappear here under a different guise – the color added by violin here gives it a wistful, lightly melancholy air. A guitar, violin, and percussion rave up opens “Long Gone” before it launches into a driving, uptempo shuffle. There’s a chance for more guitar to step out to the fore and the six-string work capitalizes on its brief moment in the spotlight with strong, sinewy lines.
“Silhouette” turns towards acoustic territory and jettisons the album’s blues and country influences for outright folk. The lyrical guitar figure sounds almost crystalline somehow, but it provides an ideal vehicle for Emerson to explore her higher register. Wiry country guitar lines, violin, and rolling percussion musically distinguish “Runaway Train”, but Emerson delivers a vocal full of gentle melancholy and understated phrasing. The soft balladic strains of “Lyndale” are another highlight thanks to outstanding guitar work and a rich vocal melody. Much of the album takes a decidedly low-fi approach, but few tracks succeed with this stripped back aesthetic as much as the penultimate track, “September Midnight”. Emerson’s higher register once again carries the day and finds ideal accompaniment from a muted shuffle punctuated by piano fills and brushed percussion.
The album’s final track, “Follow the Moon”, is a brief number and glows with its rich harmony work and a general warmth even more pronounced than earlier tracks. Emerson’s fidelity to her country influences never wavers, but she shows enough diversity on Wake Me When the Wind Dies Down to remind any listener she’s far from a one note performer. Her voice is robust, flush with technique, and her focused songwriting never flirts with self-indulgence or banality. Vicki Emerson’s third album should do much to solidify her position as one of the Americana genre’s finest artists today.