Originally hailing from Teesside in the north-east of England, but now based in London, blues singer Emma Wilson has a sweet, clear voice rather than a raunchy Janis Joplin-style snarl. Her musical style is similarly restrained, rooted in traditional blues, accompanied either by acoustic instruments or clear-toned guitar with a vintage feel; it’s no surprise to find that her guitarist Adam Chetwood also plays in retro-rocker Imelda May’s band. With many years of performing experience, it nevertheless took until 2020 for Emma to release her first EPs, two in the same year, named Fearless and LoveHeart. The first thing to say about Wish Her Well therefore, her debut full-length album, is that it’s about time, given her obvious skill and grasp of her art. The first three tracks span a breadth of styles – the opener and title track is a slinky, cynical swipe at the woman who stole her man – a gloriously loose and rubbery acoustic bass accompanies a stripped-back arrangement that can’t help but call to mind Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. By contrast, second track Mary Lou is a melodically friendly, light rock ballad that could easily be Christine McVie from Fleetwood Mac; a light tambourine or similar percussion accompanies the lilting tune, which reaches into pop territory, but not as far as track no. 3, the accessible and poppy Little Love Bite. The band build up to a decent wall of sound on this one, with a more conventional-sounding tambourine rhythm, while Emma’s voice reaches into a higher register on the emotional play-out.
Rack ‘Em Up is a fair-and-square drinking song rooted in soul, with retro keyboard backing and with a couple of guitar solos from Chetwood that could have emanated from the soulful fingers of Robert Cray. Blossom Like Snow is altogether louder, with a strident tom-tom 3-4 rhythm, a jazzy chord structure, heavily-reverbed rhythm guitar and with maracas thrown in, building to a cymbal-heavy finale. We are back to the blues with She Isn’t You, a minor-key funky blues-rocker; the voice takes on a darker vibe for this one, and this time the whole song could have been lifted straight out of the Robert Cray song book.
Chetwood stamps on his fuzz pedal for Not Paying, the only harder rock song in the set, with overdubbed guitars coming out of both channels. Emma’s voice is adorned with a helping of echo, as she spits this one with relish into the mike, the track adorned with a guest solo from Alessandro Brunetta on the blues harp. Reverbed bass and a funky guitar line introduce the up-tempo Nuthin’ I Won’t Do, pairing a funky James Brown rhythm with the 1950s sultry vocal quality of Peggy Lee. There is some nice guitar work in this one, and a range of guitar sounds, but it’s mostly about that groovy bass and the deliciously chaotic ending.
Back On The Road is a song about touring with the band, featuring a retro blues club sound, acoustic jazz kit and twangy blues guitar. The subject matter gives it a modern feel, but again it’s played over a traditional blues backing. Then I’m Gone is straight back to Robert Cray territory again, and this one has some overdubbed backing vocals, which have been missing from the rest of the set, and multiple guitars. The vintage tremolo organ could have come from a Vincent Price horror set, backed by maracas for this downbeat, bluesy piece. The song, and therefore the album, ends on a single chord with Emma singing “Then I’m Gone…” over the top, which is an excellent way to finish a debut album. If you like to hear smooth vocals, delivered over vintage sounds being played through classic gear, you won’t go wrong with this, and it’s clear there is more to come from this bluesy, soul-drenched singer.