Despite being touted by Brian May and Nuno Bettencourt, female guitarist Arielle remains something of a mystery. We’re informed she was a child prodigy, singing in the Peninsula Girls Chorus of California aged five, got a degree from Los Angeles’ Musician’s Institute, then later studied at London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. Since then, she supported a number of diverse high-profile acts over in the USA, and was part of the Queen musical We Will Rock You.
Somewhere in between all that the nagging question remains: who is she really? Obviously, that’s not her real name, but the other part of her reported backstory includes tales of sexist verbal abuse for being a woman playing guitar, alongside a record deal that turned badly sour affecting her both physically and mentally. Out on the other side now, living the independent musician’s life, it’s something to be applauded, and yet, being human, our natural curiosity will keep asking what her real full name is alongside wanting to name and shame the malicious individuals who caused her harm. In truth, we know such things are a deservedly private matter.
With ’73, Arielle takes us back to a year well before she was born. I gather it’s the one that the trailer van on the album’s cover came off the factory runway, if so, the implication’s that those were either better times or that the vehicle offered the freedom to go anywhere and be who you wanted to be when you got there. Possible subtexts aside, what you get on the record is an approximation of the sounds from those times.
Arielle herself has called the music she plays “classic folk rock”, and that’s a fair description for some of the material. As a guitarist she possesses a fluid style, evoking an amiable Eric Johnson-plays-Allmans Brothers approach in places, not least because she understands pretty equally the use of space and applying chords that aren’t always that obvious. Mostly It’s often akin to 70s soft rock where those hitting the charts could actually play a guitar lick for real. It’s as a vocalist I personally find her less engrossing. Not that she’s a bad singer, far from it; she pitches extremely well but emotively she doesn’t often move me. This stated, her cover of Bread’s hit single ‘If’ suits both her voice and her playing very well – Finger picking on what sounds like a nylon strung acoustic alongside an angelic vocal rendition, it is faithful to the original but just that distinct enough to make you listen to it on its own merits, and carefully.
By comparison, it’s all guitars revving with opening instrumental ‘The Dulcet’ that starts off a with a few faux-classical bolero-styled chords, then takes a cue from the Butterfield Blues Band’s classic ‘East-West’ but just as soon as you note that, it flows straight into the first real number, ‘Somewhere Slow’ – A mid-paced west coast light boogie, where she sings about leaving the fast lane and the rat race behind, but in singing it to her “Baby” it also gives the impression it’s a come-on for a quiet afternoon with a lover. The mid-70s Page barrage of guitar chords followed by a slower Beck-styled solo might have you raising an eyebrow, but don’t worry that’ll only be because you’re ancient enough to know. Continuing to raise the tempo, title track ‘’73’ races along like a highway star with some well-layered slide guitar.
Break-up ballad ‘Goes Without Saying’ has The Bangles written all over it, while things become more observational with the laidback soft blues of ‘Way You Look At Me’, her soloing here feeling more personal than inspired by others. ‘Weakness For You’ is a light country picking number, and another instrumental follows with ‘Kalypso’ that plays well in the Jeff Beck fusion ballpark. Another ballad, ‘I Need An Angel’, is again a little Bangles-like, a little country too, she sings this with conviction and it comes across well, this confessional of needing someone.
A cluster of echoed notes, some brittle guitar chord hammerings between an overall shimmery 90s pop vibe could be All About Eve larking around with The Go-Go’s on ‘That’s Just Lonely’. The song of hope that is ‘The Other Side (Let the Sun Set Down)’ takes that trip into the paisley sound even further down a wormhole, gets spoilt a little by the Celtic rock guitar section, but as a song with purpose, melody and enthusiasm in delivery one is beginning to suspect that a trip back in time to Laurel Canyon in the late 60s might serve Arielle better the gas-guzzling 70s. The album ends with ‘Wherever We Go from Here’, straddling Streisand standard and power ballad, with graceful poignant guitar phrases enhancing it.
Neat and tidy, but with talent and thus potential, one suspects live such aspects will prove more notable, and she’s guest on When Rivers Meets current UK tour, so public reaction may gauge the direction of future works from Arielle.
- The Dulcet
- Somewhere Slow
- Goes Without Saying
- Way You Look At Me
- Weakness For You
- I Need An Angel
- That’s Just Lonely
- The Other Side (Let the Sun Set Down)
- Wherever We Go from Here