Sena Ehrhardt

Sena Ehrhardt
Leave The Light On

Blind Pig

By Tony Del Rey
November 2011

The saying goes that if you’re going to be in the entertainment business, you better like being looked at. Judging from her come-hither stare on the cover and the amount of leg she’s showing on the back photo of her debut album, Leave The Light On, you get a sense that Sena Ehrhardt doesn’t mind if you look, or even leer for that matter.

But whether her ambition is to be a serious singer and songwriter or just another plaything for the boys remains very much a question. The issue isn’t whether the girl can sing. She can. But, what does she do to separate herself from every other aspiring diva with a knack for bending the blue notes of a scale?

As co-writer of the ten original songs that comprise Leave The Light On, it’s a pretty safe bet that the lyrics are Sena’s domain. And though her verses strive toward thoughtful expression, particularly when they center on relationships and the never-ending search for a good man, her lines are clunky, overrun with trite blues clichés and “keepin’ it real” street vernacular that doesn’t quite pull off the ruse of a white girl trying to sound black.

While lack of craftsmanship in songwriting is by no means relegated to the blues genre, it does perpetrate its crimes in this arena with almost unfailing regularity. Indeed, it seems that the pervading thought among blues players is that any I-IV-V progression constitutes a song, provided you dress it up with enough chromatic turnarounds and extended guitar solos.

The material on Leave The Light On is especially heavy on the latter. Apparently, there’s a family connection between Sena and her chief collaborator, guitarist Ed Ehrhardt, who happens to be her father. Judging from the number of string-bending forays in and around the pentatonic box, which Dad visits both aggressively and repeatedly, one would assume that the album’s producer didn’t have the stones to suggest a fresher approach.

The guitar levels are jacked so high even Dad’s rhythm playing overpowers the bass and drum, which mix-wise, sound like they’ve been strained through cotton. That ought to give some indication as to who’s paying the electricity bill around here!

Fortunately, Dad eschews sending sparks off his fret board just long enough to showcase some tasteful Les Paul-style arpeggios on the sing-along, “On The Clock.” The relentless up-stroke guitar rhythm that drives the tune as though it were a ticking clock is a device that really works. This, coupled with a simple backing vocal response of, “Tick-Tock,” not only gives a sense of urgency to Sena’s dire message of warning that we are all running short on time, but also adds a coat of polish to the song’s overall presentation.

If the song’s brisk running time is any indication, the group may have envisioned “On The Clock” as a possible radio-ready single. Unfortunately, the abrupt ending at 2:48 kills any hope of catching a sustained buzz from the tune. Whether by design or born out of laziness, the decision to cut things short only points out that there are many strong players, but too few good songwriters. A good writer would have known better.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better than “On The Clock.” The album’s remaining tracks are so pedestrian they barely deserve mention. Their basic concept and structure inhabit the same boring bucket of froth that the so-called purists insist on churning out decade after decade, as if a pure blues renaissance patiently awaits them.

Contrary to what you may believe, there’s no fun in throwing cold water on somebody’s main hope and ambition. If given the opportunity, I would attempt to assuage my criticism of Leave the Light On by offering Sena two small pieces of unsolicited advice.

First, check out Duffy, the young Welsh singer who found an international audience with her hit single, “Mercy.” For those unfamiliar with the tune, “Mercy” is a basic I-IV-V progression set to a pop beat, its digitally enhanced vocal a perfect mélange of sex and soulfulness that hooks the listener on so many levels it ought to be classified as an illegal substance. It’s young, it’s fresh, it’s hip, and yes… it’s BLUES!

The obstacle, of course, lies with the realization that the purists, and I believe Sena’s Dad to be a card-carrying member of that brigade, want no part of young, fresh or hip, musically speaking, that is. They prefer instead to convalesce, hunched over their Stratocasters, still trying to nick Clapton’s solo on “Crossroads” note-for-note.

The mere thought leads me to my second piece of advice for young Sena Ehrhardt, which is simply this: If you want to make it in the music business, Sena, run away from home… immediately!

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