Music that elevates a voice made to persuade  

COLUMBIA, Mo 2/7/14 (Review) -- About three minutes into the song This Fire, I got a big surprise.  I broke into goosebumps at the self-harmonizing sound of lead vocalist Paige Ilsley coaxing the refrain "This fire's gonna save us all" onto a musical ledge of near perfection. 

The track is far and away my favorite on a strong new recording -- Evening Fires -- from the Columbia group Moonrunner, appearing tonight at The Blue Note.  

Reportedly inspired by the dramatic Brookside apartment fire in Columbia, This Fire begins a 5-song extended play album that persuaded this listener into the barren, longing America of Cormac McCarthy, with lighter interludes  (Sail Out On, Love of Mine); a repose (Calmer Winds); and a culmination that looks across a lost horizon (Western Sky) worthy of Walter White.  

I thought of White's Albuquerque, where amidst the "scattered urban stars" Ilsley envisions in Western Sky, Breaking Bad's anti-hero tries to negotiate his latest sacrifice to the fates.   "Won'tcha help me pick up the pieces?" Ilsley gently persuades.  "My so badly broken heart, scattered across the interstate...It's a lonesome view."  

Vintage Walter -- and a hallmark of Ilsley's vocals.  She has a voice, in fact, that's made to persuade

Continuing the album's American West sensibilities is a central theme of This Fire:  fire as salvation, clearing away dead underbrush so that life can begin anew.   

"Watch it burn, watch it burrrrrnnnn," Ilsley purrs.  "This fire's gonna save us all."   Then that astonishing self-harmony, backing up her persuasion.   "And all we are, and all we were, and all we ever wanted to be; Goes up in flames in dead of night; Like a distant memory." 

Moonrunner is vocalist David Kemper, also on guitar; guitarist Nate HaynesMitchell Hughey on drums; bass player Pat Matticker; and Ilsley, whose vocals are a melodious marvel through the highs and lows, the longings and fulfillments of this noteworthy musical excursion. 

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat