Thursday, March 13, 2014


Washed in country, and steeped in sadness, Ellis brings us real-life stories with sharp insight and touching empathy.  But calling in country is just the introduction; certainly Ellis' classic twang leans you that way, but the music is an inventive hybrid that takes us all over the map.  There's the gorgeous Jimmy Webb-meets-soul melody of Steady As the Rising Sun, with strings AND pedal steel, the saloon piano of Bottle Of Wine, the haunted Western electric number Houston, and some fiery picking on Sing Along, a dark bluegrass tune.

What will stick though are the unflinching lyrics, powerful vignettes that perfectly set the scene, with complex themes but plain-spoken truths.  His Tour Song is perhaps the most heartbreaking look at the relationship-crushing life of a musician on the road with a love left behind:  "On an endless string of one-night stands, with okay girls and shitty bands, a good one comes by now and then, but I long to be back home again."  Sing Along is a flat-out condemnation of the effects of a strict religious upbringing on young people in small town America:  "That's a hell of a thing to do to a kid, just to teach him right from wrong/you can burn in hell for the rest of your days, or you can choose to sing along."  His picture of the industrial towns of the U.S., which have replaced much of the rural life, is bleak, even though the young lovers in Chemical Plant still have soul and somehow find romance:  "The lights from the chemical plant burn bright in the night like an old kerosene lamp/from a car park by the ocean, what a vision to behold."  Ellis' cover of Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years is dead-on, and sets the bar for his own writing, and damned if he doesn't match up to it.

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