Former Rooftop Revolutionaries vocalist-songwriter Eleanor Goldfield has released her long-awaited solo EP somewhat incongruently titled No Solo. The discrepancy stems from the fact that creatives seldom, if ever, produce in isolation. From poets and musicians to journalists, authors, and filmmakers, creators mingle, relate, influence, antagonize, and co-create. That’s certainly Eleanor’s world, where she wears the aforementioned hats with aplomb.
If you’re unfamiliar with her work, some highlights include:
· TV producer: “Act Out!” (which ran on FreeSpeech TV for nearly five years)
· Filmmaker (the award-winning documentary Hard Road of Hope, which traces the history of resistance in Appalachian mining communities)
· Curator of ArtKillingApathy.com, HQ for all her creative-activist output.
Alongside all of that Eleanor frequently tables in Washington DC, demonstrates, agitates, and organizes mutual aid actions. Since the above reflects an engineering schematic for how to utilize new media towards activist ends, it isn’t hyperbole to suggest that Goldfield is a modern-day Da Vinci. To escape capitalism’s restrictive specializations and its unholy trinity of exploitation, extraction, and waste, one must be.
But wait. Isn’t this supposed to be an album review? It is. I highlight the above because these activities inform No Solo, a five-track EP consisting of three songs and two spoken word pieces. Now then, on with the review!
Whenever I tell a friend I picked up a record by an artist they haven’t heard of they inevitably want to know what it sounds like. When a buddy asked me about No Solo, phrases like sparse, stripped down, paired back, intimate, and lush came to mind. Knowing this was a solo release, and tangentially familiar with the hard rock/metal sound of Rooftop Revolutionaries, I expected the first four. The fifth was a bit of a surprise. The EP’s lushness stems from Rich Mouser’s crystal clear production and Eleanor’s voice. Her training as an opera singer is evident in her range, reach, and power. From spoken word to dizzyingly soaring choruses, Goldfield’s voice is not only strong but necessary. Her acute attention to, and adroit handling of, political themes is what the world needs. In “Outlaw,” the opener, she sings “I don’t wanna be an outlaw/but you made me.” Just who is she addressing — her parents? Estranged friends? Duplicitous politicians? The world? Herself? It could be all five, and I sense that it is.
On No Solo Eleanor vocally explores the reflective and the vulnerable, the driving, determined, and, most importantly, the empowered. The record seethes with righteous indignation.
Naturally, my friend wanted to know who she sounded like. Ah, that’s easy! I thought. But I found myself speechless. Eleanor reminds me of someone — many someones, in fact — but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who. Abandoning memory, I scoured my 20-gigaton music collection for comparisons. Alannah Myles’ sultry blues-rock vocal on “Black Velvet,” Fiona Apple’s “I Know,” Shawn Colvin’s “Set The Prairie On Fire,” anything by Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and Shara Nova’s poignant reimagining of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes” on Colin Stetson’s New History Warefare Vol. 2 seemed like sensible comparisons.
Like any good artist, Goldfield draws inspiration from diverse vocalists. OG blues masters, rock icons Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, and Axel Rose, the tragically gone-too-soon Chris Cornell, and Jussi Björling, Sweden’s famed opera tenor, are all present, thus underscoring the idea that no one creates alone. Before they step back to let their progeny shine, the ghosts of predecessors shimmer on the periphery, waiting in the wings to clink cold beers after the curtain falls and the crowd cries out for more.
The songs on No Solo lack drums but they’re not beatless. On “Outlaw,” Goldfield’s Taylor 800-series dreadnaught, the main rhythm instrument, is paradoxically buried in the mix. Handclaps propel the chorus to lend a participatory feel, which ballasts the accusation leveled at the end of the first verse: “I know/your hopes and prayers, your pleading stares don’t do/a damn thing.” Beyond hackneyed phrases like ‘thoughts & prayers,’ Goldfield models participation and expects nothing less, closing the song with an invitation: “Are you gonna be an outlaw?” As the title implies, the song is a folk-rock tune with some delicious lead guitar licks deftly handled by Jordan Ferreira, and Mouser’s production elicits magic without overpowering the performances. Just under four minutes in I’m tempted to hit repeat, but I’m eager to hear what’s next.
The second track, the spoken word piece “Child of Immigrants,” departs from the folk-rock vibe. A subtle electro pulse drives the tasteful arrangement of piano, strings, and atmospherics underpinning Eleanor’s words. Tracing migration from the exoduses of the Jewish condition and the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade to Latin American families forced northward by the imperialist Monroe Doctrine, Goldfield assumes the voices of anyone fueled by despair and hope who has been forced into the whorl of danger and uncertainty. Less the conjured apparitions of victims panhandling for handouts, these are the voices of “resilience and love,” the “resistance to fascists and hate,” and the “legacy of our shame and our shared humanity.”
These first-person reclamations of voices near and distant flicker in the present. They are premised on an understanding that we must own the transgressions of our ancestors to undertake the painful, yet necessary work of reconciliation. Revealing that we are more than immediate family, “Child of Immigrants” uncovers the fact that we are held together by the too-often deliberately obscured rhizomes of entangled life that nurture us all.
Track three, “Pyre,” returns to the EP’s folk-rock sound. Rhodes piano and pedal steel guitar impart a luscious atmosphere over which Goldfield’s acoustic strumming, while simple, shines. If her vocals evoke the lapping flames of a pyre, Ferreira’s lead guitar work sets the song alight and burns just long enough to not overplay his hand. Fittingly, the song ends on a high note (“As long as it takes/I’m gonna stand where it burns”) to continue the theme of taking ownership of the world we’ve made and may bequeath to generations hence unless we chart a new course.
The second spoken word piece, “A Shrugging Dune,” I found difficult to listen to — not because it’s poorly executed, but because it’s unflinchingly raw and intimate. Recorded late at night or early one morning, Goldfield’s voice is tempered with whiskey or Rosé, tobacco and age. There is a delicateness here that tenuously balances the hard-wrought wisdom of the road with the naïve hope of adolescence. The opening line “I’m missing who I thought I’d become” reminded me of the sentiments that inform Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood, albeit in reverse. “A Shrugging Dune” might be tough to listen to, but I found myself drawn back to each crisp enunciation. With “the smooth sound of faded thoughts” evoking a synesthetic ASMR-vibe, I draw the curtains, light a candle, and set my player to repeat to ruminate on these poetic aural textures.
The EP closes with “Tangled.” Much of what marks the other songs — acoustic strums, pedal steel guitar, dueling lead licks — can be found here. A simple piano downbeat anchors the song while Ferreira delivers more explosive guitar work. At four minutes, “Tangled” is the longest piece on the record, but it’s also the one with fewest words. The whole EP clocks in at just under 17 minutes, and I have to admit it leaves me wanting more. Does Eleanor have more songs up her sleeve? I’d like to think so. Will we ever hear them? That depends on her.
Recorded in 2019, No Solo was supposed to be released in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic put a damper on that — not because the virus infected devices, but because Goldfield decided against releasing it. That’s because she plies her trade on the live circuit where she earns her bread like a real, live working musician. With those outlets temporarily suspended, No Solo was stuck in limbo. But as any artist knows, you can’t hold onto your creations forever. They have to be let go; warts and all, they have to walk on their own. The five tracks on No Solo don’t just walk, they run, and I don’t detect any flaws.
There’s an old adage which states that we get the scene we support. No Solo is finally out and with it a new wrinkle in Eleanor Goldfield’s ever-expanding creative-activist output. Does art change the world? Maybe. Will No Solo? I’d like to think so, but that’s up to us — you, me, your friends and family, and anyone else you can turn on to this exciting release, especially your political foes, the very people that need to hear it more than those of us already in the choir.
If you need a preview, No Solo is up on Spotify but I avoid that platform because I still believe artists should be compensated for their work. It’s also available on iTunes. But do yourself and Eleanor a favor and go to her website and buy No Solo as a digital download. If hardcopies are your thing, the EP is slated for vinyl release from a sustainable, eco-friendly organization in the Netherlands. Each direct digital purchase will turn that vinyl dream into a wax reality.
In the end, No Solo is thoughtful, beautifully produced, and bound to get lodged in your player. Support radical independent art and you, too, to paraphrase Eleanor, can carve clouds into a featureless sky to bring forth a better world. For updates on her political concerns, activities, and future live appearances, follow Eleanor on Twitter at @RadicalEleanor.