Album Review: Alum Emi Ferguson climbs the Billboard charts!
From the Top alumni are no strangers to celebrating big-time success, and Emi Ferguson has a lot to celebrate right now. Emi first appeared on From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley on Show 121 playing one of J.S. Bach’s famous flute sonatas, and has since gone on to attend Juilliard with a prestigious grant, perform in New York’s 9/11 memorial service alongside the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor, and most recently—hit it big on the Billboard charts!
Emi’s debut album, Amour Cruel, dropped on September 14 and has now found itself at #10 on Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart, #22 on the Billboard classical chart, and #14 on the world albums chart. Naturally, Emi plays all of the album’s rich and varied flute parts, but she also covers all of its vocals with a folksy richness and expressive French diction. The album owes much of its historical evocation, as well as its modern twist, to Emi’s bandmates, who accompany her on percussion, electric bass, classical guitar, viola da gamba, renaissance lute… and more.
“Baroque Pop” has become the most fitting genre-defining term for the album’s sound, but like most genre classifications, it doesn’t encompass everything Emi and her band have to offer. Her website asks, “What if Louis XIV were living today and curated his court composers with musicians like Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, or Adele?” The album is a musical answer to that question, its songs borrowing their musical framework from 17th-century French chansons, combining seamlessly with contemporary production techniques and melodic nods to the Blues, folk, and R&B traditions. The result is nothing less than a diverse and globally-encompassing fantasy ride.
Emi’s flute playing takes center stage alongside her vocals, drawing on a vast array of tone colors and articulations to conjure times past and present. “Pourquoi doux rossignol?” features the flute as an equal partner to Emi’s voice, and showcases the overtone-rich sound our modern ears associate with early wooden flutes. “Mignonne” features the punchy articulation and improvisational flourishes that have found a home in the contemporary jazz flute oeuvre. A cool upright-bass line and bossa-style percussion and guitar accompany Emi, giving this track a true hip French coffee-shop vibe.
The diversity of Amour Cruel doesn’t stop at its multi-dimensional historical references, though. The album is deeply multicultural. “La blanche biche” revels in a harmonic minor space that derives from the Greek amanedes tradition. This tonality became common in Western Medieval song after the Greek War of Independence due to refugee displacement. Today, though, Western ears still associate it with traditional music of the Middle East. Later in the album, “Cessez mortels de soupirer” pays homage to the American popular music tradition, featuring a bridge of a cappella Bluesy vocals that could come straight from Florence and the Machine’s next album.
The album’s sound is expressed visually in Ivanco Talevski’s stunning album artwork. Even the album’s webpage serves as an evocative visual aid, showcasing manuscript illuminations from Medieval French songbooks known as chansonniers alongside their printed neumes (the grandfather of today’s musical staff notation).
You can listen to Emi Ferguson’s Amour Cruel on Spotify, or through her website. If you love it (which you will), please consider purchasing it on iTunes, or ordering a physical copy on Emi’s website. Emi’s Billboard success is a momentous accomplishment– you can help her keep climbing the charts by streaming and purchasing!