Ellen Starski, a Nashville singer-songwriter, rises above and beyond the pack by creating a combination of striking and memorable indie folk piano-led ballads, finger plucked guitar riffs, and lush string orchestrations on her latest album, The Days When Peonies Prayed For The Ants.
On her expressive debut album, Starski introduces to the masses her range as a vocal performer and her songwriting abilities as a talented storyteller. The album spans 12 years, tracing her journey from Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania – where she got her start learning how to play guitar at 19 years old, before becoming the singer of a bluesy bar band – to Knoxville, where she kick-started her solo career with pub gigs and open mic performances. Starski is currently based in Nashville, where she has planted herself since 2008. It was there, alongside producer Anne McCue and a crop of the town’s top local musicians that she recorded, The Days When Peonies Prayed For The Ants.
The stellar album opens up with “Ode To Nanny And Cookies,” which is dedicated to both her grandmothers. The vocals, here, are filled with a haunting and ethereal vibe, evoking an elegance and vulnerability never before seen. Deft finger work on the guitar coming from McCue paves the way. The track is a solid arrangement of acoustic guitar and drums. There pervades a simple yet beatific melody as lush strings come in mid-way into the song, creating a transcending listening experience, filled with a soaring and atmospheric feel.
“Honey I’m Not Him” was written during a nighttime drive along the Nashville backroads with her infant sleeping in the backseat. The sounds of the banjo and percussions jumpstart this Americana folk rock track. The song has an energetic vibe that pulses with a more upbeat tone. This is a dynamic-ridden and dramatic track. Reverberating guitar riffs also add to the momentum of this song. The track has a moody and gloomy feel to the music filled with a dark cadence.
“Missing You” begins with strumming on the acoustic guitar that highlights Starski’s striking vocals, which eventually joins in with the lone guitar. Next a piano melody trickles in, adding to the arresting arrangement. The stellar acoustic sound is paved with a somber and melancholy cadence. Towards the end of the song, elegant strings are played in a staccato-fashion to give the music its timely rhythm.
“Separated By Time” has a bouncy country-blues beat to it. Some smashing blues are played here. The accordion adds a gritty layer to this track. Percussions and drums give off an energetic vibe. The song is filled with attitude. About an unconventional love story about a pair of lovers who chance love even though the odds are against them, the music serenades the two on their journey.
“Taken by The Breeze” contains a mellow vibe that recalls a retro 50’s feel to the cadence. Trumpets flair in the track. Filled with a smooth and soothing feel, percussions add an energized flavor to the song. A beatific acoustic guitar melody twangs towards the end.
“Miss You Mary” is an ode to her mother, who helped her daughter out of many a dark place as a teenager. This is a moody track as percussions add a charged atmosphere to the song with the acoustic guitar alone accompanying Starski’s vocals toward the beginning. Next some lush strings joins in, creating an ambient soundscape.
Inspired by her daughter, “Daughter Of The Sea” contains haunting reverberating vocals. This folk rock ballad has a retro with a cadence recalling a 50’s era classic rock vibe. A hush island flavor could also be detected. The track comes across like a lullaby with a soothing and placating appeal. A mellow vibe fills this song. Symphonic strings also reverberates on this dreamy and haunting track.
“Fairweather Friend” is a slower sauntering ballad. A dynamic guitar melody paves this song. Faint drumming accompanies the guitar and Starski’s vocals. An emotional and thought-provoking track.
“Chasing The Sun” has a catchy and upbeat vibe that incorporates a tropical/island lilt. Sounds of the accordion and an upbeat piano melody fills this song. The track has a sunny feel filled with positive vibes and an uplifting feel.
The closer and title-track, “The Days When Peonies Prayed For The Ants” is a spoken word piece accompanied by a marching drumming backbeat and the flute. An interesting experimental piece that further demonstrates Starski’s creative proclivities, "The Days When Peonies Prayed For The Ants" shows the folk rock artist's poetic side.
This is relevant roots music. These songs reverberate from deep within. A sweeping concoction that will take you away and create a transcending listening experience, The Days When Peonies Prayed For The Ants is a quiet release from the mundane.
Part confessional and part personal storytelling, Starski draws from her own life to write these startling portrayals of life, love, and heartache.
The album title is a nod to the give and take relationship of ants and peonies. Peonies produce nectar outside of their buds. Ants are drawn to the flowers’ stalks in search of food. This process allows the flowers to fully bloom and the ants’ appetite to be satiated. Starski’s arresting writing style resembles the similar theme of give-and-take and cause-and-effect.
Emotional and heartwarming, these inspiration songs filled with personal anecdotes are polished and overflowing with Ellen Starski’s magnetic personality.
A very memorable album that engages audiences with its timeless vibe, this is a record that will resonate long after the last track has finished playing.
Be sure you have a listen today!