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Emma Stevens - Waves

High in the skies above Surrey on a sunny summer Sunday, a young singer-songwriter plots the next move in the ever upward trajectory of her career. Emma Stevens is airborne, in the cosy cabin of a four-seater PA28, performing her new single ‘So Stop The World’, as video cameras alternate between her strumming away on a guitar and an enthusiastic throng of fans spelling out the song’s title on the ground 1,000 feet below.

It’s an audacious calling card, certainly more adventurous and inventive than the vast majority of promotional clips by new artists, but typical behaviour for a singer with her sights set on the dizziest heights. ‘So Stop The World’ is making friends everywhere it’s heard, not least among the good folk who compile the playlists at BBC Radio 2, and is the perfect curtain-raiser for her second album Waves, due out in October.

At the risk of overdoing the aeronautical metaphors, the promo is no short-hop flight of fancy. Emma Stevens’ rich, emotive and engaging songs suggest she’s in it for the long haul, an enchanting musical journey that began when she was barely out of nappies.

To call Emma a precocious talent is an understatement. She was given her first guitar by her mother at the tender age of three, sparking a musical curiosity that flourished throughout her childhood, during which she took lessons in both cello and piano. Membership of school music clubs led to her joining the Surrey Youth Orchestra, and she later enrolled at the Guildford-based Academy of Contemporary Music, studying guitar and performance.

Parallel to all this activity, Emma was writing poetry in her bedroom, and it was inevitable that her creative passions would collide in songwriting. Her time at the Academy helped her hone her skills as a tunesmith while also giving her the confidence to play her music in front of an audience.

She’s toured with the likes of The Kooks and Feeder, and travelled the world to work with all manner of established artists and writers, in Los Angeles, Nashville and Europe. One of her songs was recorded by Korea’s primo boy band SHINee, on a chart-topping album that sold an astonishing 100,000 copies in its first week on release.

It’s her own recordings that mark Emma out as a name to watch, though; the infectious, alluring pop of her 2013 debut album Enchanted attracting the attention of Radio 2 figureheads Terry Wogan and Chris Evans, the latter inviting her to appear at his bespoke festival CarFest, on a bill that also featured Scouting For Girls and Amy Macdonald.

But it’s not just the bastions of mainstream radio who’ve fallen under her spell, the taste-making hip website Louder Than War also surrendered to the charms of Enchanted. “It’s pop, it’s folk, it’s indie, it’s kitsch, it’s wonderful,” they wrote.

The promise of Enchanted is set to be fulfilled and further fuelled by the 12 songs that comprise Emma’s second album, Waves. The jaunty folk-pop of the opening ‘So Stop The World’ sets the tone (“a song about wanting everything to just freeze, so you can appreciate and spend time with the one you love,” she says), but there are darker hues to the jangle and sway of ‘Helium’ and its concerns about love being in short supply.

Emma’s stridently strummed guitar punctuates the falling-for-the-wrong-boy ode ‘Bad Habit’ (“if I’m not addicted I’m a fool for coming back,” our helpless heroine sings), while more joyous affairs of the heart inform the frantic, folk-tinged gallop of ‘Gold Rush’, and romantic uncertainty underpins the lushly arranged lament ‘Nothing Serious’.

The constant throughout these captivating songs is Emma’s expressive and emotive voice, carried along on gorgeous melodies and couched in intricate but never overblown arrangements. Waves bears all the hallmarks of a classic pop album, awash with instantly memorable pocket-sized symphonies that will strike resounding chords of heartfelt recognition with listeners.

‘Shooting For The Moon’ is an anthem-in-waiting, an articulate and keenly observed study of hope and optimism in the face of adversity, and the positive vibes step up a gear on the percussive thrills of ‘Yes!’ – “it’s about how one word can change your life,” its author explains.

Emma is arguably at her most poetic on ‘Amaretto Kisses’, channelling the pain of being far from the one you love, while the bouncy, ebullient ‘Anywhere’ is a loose flipside/companion piece, celebrating the simple pleasures of being with the object of one’s affections wherever it may be (“don’t need a penthouse suite or cocktails by the pool”).

The plane into which Emma strapped herself for the ‘Make My Day’ promo may be back in its hangar at Fairoaks airport now, but Waves is preparing for take-off, to swoop and soar into our hearts before too long.


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