Having abandoned Muscle Shoals for New York on her last album, Born On The Ground – released on the eve of the pandemic – Emily Duff really didn’t have much choice regarding the recording location of her latest album, Razor Blade Smile. In fact, the album was birthed in her cramped Greenwich Village tenement (shared with husband, teenage kids, a dog and a few dozen guitars!) as Duff took time out on the fire escape and wrote these songs.
As has often been the case recently, Duff’s fire escape songs found their way into the studio once Covid restrictions relaxed as she and producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel recorded her acoustic versions. The basic tracks laid down, Ambel then assembled a band and grafted them onto Duff’s originals with nary a join to be seen or heard. The result is a kickass set of songs with a New York attitude which at times has a Patti Smith toughness along with nods to alt country and some of that southern grit displayed on her earlier albums.
It’s the south which is summoned first of all as the gutsy finger picked guitar intro to Go Fast Don’t Die is rapidly joined by a kaleidoscopic Band -like country funk while Duff comes across like a foul mouthed Bobbie Gentry. It’s only two minutes long but it packs a powerful punch. Next up is the more conventional and fleet footed Gimme Back My Love which reminds this writer of Bruce Springsteen, but then the album gets down and dirty on the slow groove of Done And Done with Ambel’s guitars rumbling and growling alongside Charlie Giordano’s swelling keyboards. Duff’s in her element here, her strong voice weighted with portent like an iron fist in a velvet glove and she revisits this on the melodramatic Don’t Hang The Moon which dives deep into a witchy woman vision of dark country rock music. The title song is a scuzzy slice of punk rock and Another Goodbye recalls the high priestess of punk, Patti Smith. Duff here sounds more guarded and, indeed, paranoid, as the band slide between punk reggae and New York organ grooves.
Sidling closer to country towards the end of the disc, we find Giordano abandoning his keyboards for accordion on Feelin’ Alright which is given a fine country lope while Nicotine & Waiting is quite tremendous. It’s a tear stained slow country waltz with weeping pedal steel and accordion, burnished by Ambel’s guitar glimmerings. Duff here shows why some folk compare her to the like of Lucinda Williams.