As the cliched adage affectively reminds us: “home is where the heart is.” And from the long list of hackneyed five-and-dime maxims, one could certainly pull out the equally cloying and superficial “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Yet, for Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Erin Ash Sullivan, no matter how trite or archaic these truisms might seem, they’re still capable of communicating multiple layers of meaning rife with emotional significance. Such, at least, is the case she makes in “Take It From There,” one of the tracks off her upcoming debut album We Can Hear Each Other.
An ode to the simple pleasures of quotidian life, “Take It From There” follows a young mother and her two school-aged children over the course of four months in the small and bucolic town of Lewiston, Maine. Throughout the song, we witness the threesome go about their daily routines partaking in numerous run-of-the-mill activities that include visits to the local library, volunteering at the Grace Hope Mission, and playing in the fountain at a neighborhood park.
With commendable clarity and novelistic attention to detail, Sullivan creates vivid snapshots of a quiet and modest life in small-town New England. In ways that recall prominent Maine resident and novelist Stephen King or folk icon Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving-themed classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” the singer fittingly brings to life images of downtown Lewiston that are both vivid and dynamic. And in describing the town’s quaint main street as filled with “places that are safe and where people are kind,” she carefully reinforces her speaker’s underlying sense of gratitude.
Because for Sullivan, gratitude is a virtue she’s more than willing to extol as she craftily interpolates the motif repeatedly throughout the piece. Her deeply-felt appreciation for the joy found in life’s small pleasures, along with her unwavering commitment to the principles of motherhood, inform the track’s refrain as she confidently declares that “ It might not seem like much of a day to you/ but I’ve learned how to lean on routine/ and feel safe anywhere/ I can take it from there.” This theme similarly underlies the domestic wisdom heard in the piece’s bridge as Sullivan speaks out in a moment of hushed and quiet candor declaring that: “the paths we carve from day to day/ they bind us to ourselves/ and to no other” and that “the way to home is simply through each other.”
Sullivan’s soft-spoken vocal modulations expertly fill the number with astonishingly diverse and textured layers of emotion whose contrasts shape and enhance our understanding of what’s taking place. It isn’t hard to feel as though one is also in the act of folding clothes for the local thrift shop or waiting for the bus after a long day of working or volunteering at the local Mission.
For it’s the Grace Hope Mission in downtown Lewiston that serves as a recurring setting in the song’s storyline. It’s here that the protagonist begins each verse by informing us in a diary-like fashion of how long she and her family have been in town and what their accomplishments were for that particular day.
This motif of missionary work aptly correlates with the themes of parenting and the importance of creating lasting bonds with one’s loved ones. That is because Sullivan’s protagonist strongly believes it a mother’s mission to ensure that her children grow up surrounded by the kind of stability and peace of mind that will guarantee a healthy and sound emotional development. This notion of parental sacrifice and the recognition of its utmost importance takes on added significance upon learning that Sullivan wrote the song in memory of an old friend who, like her main character, was also a single mother of two and who, unfortunately, suffered a sudden and untimely death.
As the song enters its final verse, the speaker tells us that work around the Mission is slowly reaching its completion and that soon, she and her family will be returning to “Farmington” and the welcome simplicity of their “old apartment.” The undeniable feeling of melancholy surrounding this act of self-affirmation and compelling moment of self-fulfillment ultimately serves as a fitting tribute to a woman whose life-defining work has certainly not gone unappreciated. And coincidentally, it also feels like a well-timed reminder. A kind reminder to the listener that as we approach the end of this yearlong pandemic, the work we’ve put in during sustained moments of silence and self-reflection has the power to define us as we return to a lost sense of wonder for the quotidian and rejoin our former lives.