Firefly, the debut album from local singer Ashleigh Still, is a work of subtle charms and private revelations. Its nine songs clock in at barely a half-hour, adding up to a collection of hushed ruminations delivered with such understatement that the music often feels as though it's about to wilt away. Within the fragility of Still's breathy performances, her friskiness reveals an inner strength and playfulness that belie the vulnerabilities she so openly puts on display.
Still's soulful voice takes center stage on Firefly and she uses it to shade the songs' explorations of herself and her relationships. A single mother of two who was raised in a strict Presbyterian household, Still has a desperate desire for happiness and independence without the complication of commitment that leads to contradictory consequences. As demonstrated by songs like "Good Time" and "Just a Girl," such hopes are tinged by the tendency to inadvertently grow attached to and be hurt by others, so the grace with which Still accepts these realities adds an almost tragic emotional heft to her convictions.
The interplay between Still's vocals and Nick Salisbury's bass adds a sensual tension to Firefly. Salisbury's rippling textures blend intuitively with Still's vocals, the pair's warm, interlocking tones drawing the listener in closely as if to reveal a carefully guarded secret or make a romantic advance. At times the chemistry is such that Salisbury virtually finishes Still's sentences, and on "Too Bad" the outburst of his dissonant, unhinged bass line contrasts perfectly with her outward cool.
Firefly's intimacy is eventually suspended on the closing track, "Creep." Recorded live at the Dakota, the song finds Still laying her insecurities bare as she laments her physical and spiritual imperfections and longs to feel worthy of others. The audience's inclusion contrasts the song wonderfully from the rest of the album, not only in making her feelings public but also, thanks to the ovation she receives, offering the hope that Still knows better than to ever fall victim to her fears.
ASHLEIGH STILL AND NICK SALISBURY play a CD-release show with Jeremy Ylvisaker and J.T. Bates on THURSDAY, APRIL 29, at the DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB; 612.332.1010