Having ploughed a soulful Southern loam on her last two records (Maybe In The Morning and Hallelujah Hello), both recorded at Muscle Shoals in Alabama, Emily Duff here returns to her New York roots for a zesty collection of punchy songs. There’s still a soulful edge here and there but there’s a New York groove throughout with nods to Duff’s apprenticeship at CBGB and the Big Apple tradition of feisty female pop and rock. Adding a powerful booster rocket to her trajectory, she has enlisted Eric “Roscoe” Ambel for production duties and electric guitar. A sure-footed step as Ambel is as close to a trademark of quality as one can get these days.
According to Duff, the nine songs here are all related to some sort of breakup (or more accurately perhaps, breakdown) she has experienced, seen through the prism of a current happy family life, allowing her time to reflect on her past. There’s little rancour here (aside from We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and Knuckle Sandwich) but plenty of emotion as Duff recalls busted relationships and her absent mother.
The album kicks off with a swamp rock outing similar to those on her previous albums as she wails against the sorry “sonofabitch” she is kicking off her metaphorical train on We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. He’s well advised jump as she returns later with the blistering Knuckle Sandwich which hammers along with killer guitars and electrifying honky tonk piano as Duff turns the table on a bully as she snarls like Patti Smith.
Elsewhere the dial is turned down on a series of well crafted songs which range from the stoical tale of hardship which is Born On The Ground (with more killer guitar soloing) to the theatrical antics of No Escape which is perfectly executed with carnival organ, Mike Garson like tinkling ivories and lyrical guitar licks. There’s a glimmer of power pop on Easy Go! while There Is A Way Out has a New Jersey feel to it preparing the listener for Something Sexy’s strut into Asbury Park territory. The tender Killer allows Duff to show off her excellent vocals over a shuffled beat with electric piano setting the pace as she sings about a lover leaving her. A gliding guitar solo and Duff’s wearied voice here reminds one of Lucinda Williams’ best work. A mighty burst of guitars introduces the final song, Forever Love, another fine foray into power pop which sways with an “up yours” Chrissie Hind like sashay.
With Ambel at the helm and her band ( Scott Aldrich: guitar, Skip Ward: bass, Charlie Giordano: keyboards, Kenny Soule: drums) on fire throughout, Born On The Ground shows that Duff can easily transfer her talents from the south to her native territory without sacrificing any of the emotion while broadening her palette.