Boston-based singer-songwriter Noelle Micarelli dots her debut EP, Field Notes From Another Place, with natural and religious vignettes, a display of her gift for scene-setting. At various points, her songs depict a stained glass of the Virgin Mary in a church, digging a car out in winter, and a shepherd praying on a hilltop—each image rendered in sharp relief by her bell-clear vocals.

Field Notes From Another Place
opens on a living room in the evening. Micarelli intones: “I have discovered a species of moth / it has wings as wide as my hand.” From her chair, she watches the moth fly through an open window and land on a nearby lampshade. A dulcimer picks away behind her. A bass adds warmth to the room. A moment later, clear, cool vocal harmonies ruffle the curtains. The voices disappear as quickly as they came.

From the beginning of the EP, it’s clear that Micarelli’s primary interest is storytelling via imagery. EP highlight “Going Home (Song for Kara)” finds her on a train out of New York as she physically and mentally leaves a bad relationship. She flashes back through scattered and brief memories, contrasting a walk uptown and the lights of Times Square with the settled and simple refrain: “I’m going home.” The constancy of this refrain has a bittersweet effect, underscoring the tension between her decision to leave and the fond memories she keeps.

Micarelli’s songs have an old-world flavor, indebted to Appalachia and the Great American Songbook as a whole. “City On A Hill”, a short ballad that references Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon, is a strange slice of Americana, using a traditional binary verse/chorus structure and dulcimer strums to support some bizarre lyrics regarding the Virgin Mary giving birth in a national park. Despite the sweetness of the melodies and the fantastical imagery, the song ends on a strangely radical note. “When you are a city on a hill you are a light,” she reminds the listener, “you must survive.”

On My Way To You,” the last song on the EP, chronicles a journey to reconnect with a friend. The track dances on the line between camp and charm, before ending a musical jingle so neat it could pass for the jingle in a Target ad. While this could have come across as cheesy or abrupt, in Micarelli’s hands the little detail feels like a puzzle piece, small but necessary to complete her picture  Clocking in at one minute and 28 seconds, the song is over when the story is.

As a debut EP, this little collection of succinct, self-aware folk songs suggests a great deal of potential. They avoid blasé singer-songwriter tropes in a genre that lends itself to Portlandia sketches, dealing in folky and historical references that are re-envisioned through Micarelli’s slightly zany lens. While storytelling and good songwriting are often at odds, Micarelli naturally succeeds at both.

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