Blue. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Blacklisted. You Are Free. Exile in Guyville. Time (the Revelator). The Well. All of these records have prominent common threads. Most notably they’re all records executed flawlessly by female narrators who had weathered or were weathering difficult times. They’re all also linked by virtue of being fantastic records that flow seamlessly and highlight their maker’s artistic prowess. Putting The Well in that hallowed company isn’t a slight to the records listed before it, it’s a testament to how great The Well is. For some reason, the women who toughen up their songs and seem slightly battered by whatever demons they may have end up turning out incredible albums.
Megan Reilly disappeared for a while and her re-emergence seemed questionable. She settled down, had a child, learned to quilt and embraced the domestic lifestyle. That makes this record’s slightly downcast tone all the more fascinating. In sound, this is an album coinciding with small depressions but in lyric, its tone is slightly more hopeful. That contrast provides The Well with an intriguing balance that suits Reilly’s voice perfectly. This level of complementary perfection is rarely achieved and it’s near therapeutic to listen to. Helping matters even more is the virtuoso guitar performances turned in by the most recent addition to Reilly’s band, James Mastro, who laces every song with a sense of determined grit.
In The Well‘s first half, there’s not a weak moment to be found and each song pulls the listener further in. From the album’s opening, with the driving “To Steal My Love”, it becomes apparent that Reilly’s operating in top form and has found a perfect musical match for her vocals in Mastro’s playing. Her words alternate from sounding liked barbed accusations and threats to sweetly recalled memories. That’s a dangerous tightrope to walk and she navigates the line magnificently, filtering it all through her Americana-tinged folk-pop styling. Both the terms singer and songwriter are earned, respectively, in abundance throughout The Well. There’s an occasional left turn to be found as well, like on the soul-tinged “Little Angel”, but the consistency of The Well isn’t ever sacrificed.
That the second half of The Well holds up as well as the first isn’t too surprising. There are certain times where artists lock so firmly into a zone, where every detail clicks, that after a while the thought of them going off-path at any point seems outlandish. When the opening guitar riff of “Throw It Out” hits, any remaining doubts should evaporate. Reilly’s latched onto something with The Well and it’s thrilling to listen to, despite how plaintive some of the arrangements are. Everything clicks and is anchored by her stunning voice and highlighted by the near-perfect guitar work that runs through every song. “Stop lying, start living, be strong, move on,” instructs Reilly towards the beginning of “Throw It Out”. She sings it with such conviction that one’s inclined to listen and follow the directions. That level of persuasion is fairly consistent for the songs on The Well and subsequently makes everything feel honest and extremely convincing.
The Well closes with two of its most lovely songs, “After You’re Gone”, just piano and vocals, which is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful; and the gentle “The Rise and Fall of Sleep”. Both paired together offer a perfect ending for a record that never finds itself below an impressive level of excellence. All of the ghosts of the records creep up and sneak in through The Well and push it towards the territory they occupy. This is a quiet record with moments of subtle brilliance. There are incredibly infrequent moments where the songs feel like they’re stalling a little, but that’s the only complaint to be found. Reilly’s mastered her craft and should certainly be remembered for it.