An attractive strummed acoustic guitar pattern introduces “Willow” by Ella Rae Cole and her even more attractive singing soon follows.
There is the addition of a cello part that comes in and out of the song at different intervals. This serves the delicacy of the delivery of this gentle song but due to its clever arrangement and playing by Charis Omohundro, it also pushes the song forward and opens it like a flower in the morning in just the places where it needs it. It also plays a brief solo of sorts in the centre of the track.
When you first listen to “Willow”, all this clever subtlety is missed in trying to initially work out what kind of song you’re listening to. But repeated plays reveal the lovely little touches and how real and acoustic and genuinely beautiful the song is.
Ella Rae’s voice is close and intimate sounding for most of the track, which heightens the sense that she might be imparting some sensitive secrets from deep within and lends a subtle magic to what you’re hearing.
Harmonies are added at certain moments and also feel like they’ve been carefully placed to heighten the atmospheric musical moments just where they’re needed.
She intimately and emotionally reflects on what she calls, “the subtleties of coming-of-age exploration and inquiries, a sense of belonging, and the feeling of home.”
But the lyrics seem a lot more poetic and ambiguous than this straightforward explanation:
This house in the morning
It sings without warning
Of the words
Screams without scorn
For those stories the ones they’d never see
All, I’ll let them be
And perhaps it’s just the same
A singing, screaming house, longing for stories, it’s like a dream half-remembered but eventually forgotten in the waking hours.
Later she sings:
Where it’s hidden nobody knows
Waiting for the wicked to break down our bones
So here’s to this
To making this, alone
Again, an ambiguity. What’s hidden, her creativity? Who is going to break bones and what is being made?
Perhaps it’s about being in a place that makes you feel safe and able to express yourself whilst at the same time the world is challenging you and pushing you to places you’re not used to. Or not!?
Whatever is actually being said, it’s open to interpretation in a really interesting way.
What she comes back to more than once is:
Somewhere we can go to roam,
Call this home
Perhaps that’s what is at the heart of this song, a place where you can be free to dream and drift.
“Willow” achieves that feeling, a masterful exercise in beautiful layering and gentle acoustic expression.