As one of the most sought-after vocalists on the West Coast, Elliott Peck has made a name for herself lending harmonies to everyone from Phil Lesh and Bob Weir to Jackie Greene and Reid Genauer. As a member of the band Midnight North, she’s appeared on bills with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and The Mother Hips and slayed festivals from Lockn’ to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Now, with her mesmerizing solo debut, Peck is stepping center stage, ready to prove she’s a talent more than worthy of the spotlight on her own.
“I’ve been writing songs for a long time and I’ve been really fortunate these last few years to perform with so many great musicians,” says Peck, “but I wanted to try something different with this album. I wanted to focus on writing for myself, to see if I could come up with something that I’d be proud to call my own.”
Recorded in Oakland with producer Karl Derfler (Tom Waits, Dave Matthews), ‘Further From The Storm’ is Peck’s first release under her own name and her debut album for the burgeoning Blue Rose Music artist collective. Weaving together the disparate threads of American roots into a captivating whole, the record serves as a brilliant showcase not only for Peck’s vocal prowess, but also for her meticulous craftsmanship. She writes with a breezy vulnerability, a plainspoken and unflinching honesty that belies her songs’ subtle sophistication as she draws on classic country, blues, R&B, and jazz to create an utterly timeless collection. It’s the kind of music that demands repeated listening, revealing new rewards with each and every drop of the needle.
Raised on a farm in rural Michigan, Peck first became enamored with live music through family trips to the Windy City.
“There were more animals than people where I grew up,” says Peck, “but even though it was really isolated there, my parents were music lovers who would drive us down to Chicago for concerts and festivals. I saw Koko Taylor and Ray Charles and just fell in love with the Chicago blues at a young age. It was the first music I started singing and it made me want to explore my voice.”
Peck moved to Chicago after graduating from college, but relocated to the San Francisco, California a few years later. There, she was introduced to the Bakersfield country sound, diving headfirst into old recordings by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and tracing their legacy all the way up through contemporary keepers of the flame like Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono. Quickly embraced in the Bay Area, Peck began singing and writing alongside Grahame Lesh in Midnight North, which would go on to release three studio albums in addition to touring nationally and serving as the house band at the famed Terrapin Crossroads. Relix praised the outfit’s soulful, harmonized vocals,” while The Washington Post hailed their “exuberant, twangy” sound, and Pop Matters raved that “Peck shines” in the band, “delivering a bluesy country rock vocal.”
At the encouragement of Blue Rose founder Joe Poletto, Peck began exploring alternative avenues of her songwriting, penning a batch of tunes with a different feel than her Midnight North material. The songs were tighter and more succinct in their architecture, crafted with an eye towards more traditional pop structures and organic arrangements. She dove deep, fine-tuning the material with Derfler before recording a single note. When it was finally time to head into the studio, Derfler assembled an all-star lineup of musicians to help bring the music to life: bassist David Hayes (Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow), guitarist James DePrato (Chuck Prophet, Country Joe McDonald), drummer Kevin Hayes (Robert Cray, Old Crow Medicine Show), pedal steel guitarist Dan Lebowitz (Jack Johnson, Donovan Frankenreiter), keyboardist Patrick Warren (Joan Baez, Bob Dylan), and organist Jason Crosby (Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph).
“In the past, I’d always recorded with a band that had played live and rehearsed together,” says Peck. “This album was the first time I’d taken such raw material and developed with new musicians on the fly. It was definitely challenging and it really pushed me as an artist, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in the studio.”
The record begins with an arresting a capella moment, as punchy three-part harmonies burst forth and give way to the soulful, hypnotizing album opener “River’s Path.” Backed by Tim Bluhm and frequent Mavis Staples backup singer Vicki Randle, Peck’s voice is silky and textured, weathered with character and loaded with emotion. It’s an ideal introduction to an eclectic album that moves freely between genres and moods, tied together at every turn by its stunning vocal performances. Songs like the waltzing “Another Life Ago” and shuffling “Hard Lines” are lean and playful, while the melancholy “Leave Me By The Sea” and tender “Out Sailing” are lush and poignant. Peck digs into reimagined versions of The Trishas’ “Give It Away” and Lucinda Williams’ “I Lost It” as powerfully as if they were her own, and she the raises the tempo and intensity for gritty rockers like “Highway Song” and “Good For You I Guess.” The collection covers a remarkable amount of stylistic ground, but that should come as little surprise considering Peck’s pedigree and her mentors.
“Phil Lesh has always pushed me to think outside the box,” says Peck. “I’ve adopted his policy of trying to keep things surprising, keep them interesting, keep them weird. There’s comfort in writing a song and being done with it, but I’ve learned from Phil not to be afraid to go back and rethink things and experiment with different sounds and progressions.”
The end result is a record that defies expectations while still managing to feel warm and familiar. It’s an invitation to dig deeper, to push below the surface in the search for honest expression and pure emotion. Even if you’ve never heard her sing a note before, Peck sounds like the kind of songwriter you’ve been listening to for years, and as she embarks on her newest chapter, it’s clear that she’s the kind of songwriter you’ll be listening to for years to come, too.