A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Schultz
What would happen if you were to take a three-piece Santa Cruz band with R & B, jazz/fusion, world music, and salsa experience and front them with a beautiful ex-Broadway singer who toured opposite Michael Crawford in The Phantom of the Opera? The answer to this surprising question is Leslie Ellis and Lost Borders. Their first full-length CD, STANDING AT THE MOMENT, is a diverse collection of ten songs based on one of three band scenarios: solo singer/songwriter style with Leslie on acoustic guitar (a throwback to her Greenwich Village folk days); acoustic band with hand drums, acoustic bass, and guitars; and full electric band.
Representing the singer/songwriter style on this album are well-worn themes of unsuccessful relationships. "Pass By the Bay" describes two ships who must balance the desire to steer their own individual courses, yet still maintain their relationship. Written in 1990 by Leslie, the principal songwriter for the band, "Thread of Steel" is an analogy for the thin, nearly invisible bond which keeps one tied to a lover who wishes to break free. Both of these songs highlight the fine vocal talents of Leslie Ellis, whose voice is so natural that you'll swear you've heard it before.
The quality and the depth of the songwriting, as well as the breadth of topics, improves in the songs set in the acoustic-band style. "Working" is a marvelously written and well-performed piece narrated by a woman who works the factory lines ("doing time in an army of a different kind") while her man is away fighting World War II. In doing so, she sows the seeds for the modern working woman: "I'm working up a plan to take them past this factory as far as any man." At the same time, however, she must balance her responsibilities to her family. The strong beat to this song is masterfully laid down by drummer Michael Strunk. He's playing his basin drum (a favorite with audience members at their live shows), created from his grandmother's wash basin. The album closes with Leslie's apparent answer to the song "Fame," "The Motion Was the Key," in which she relates how she pleased audiences by dancing as a young girl. She later realized the downside of this type of career: "A single junkie on the stage/ Creeping up on middle age." She boldly states: "My agenda needs tending to," inspiring her to explore a more fulfilling career in singing.
The "plugged" songs return to the realm of love and its discontents. The first track, "More Miles on the Heart," is a rocking road song, similar to Dar Williams' "Traveling Again." Unlike Dar, who leaves her lover, Leslie's heroine, in "a wave of inspiration," decides to move cross-country with her mate. Another song about love and distance, "Walk Alone," shows the band at its finest, with strong background vocals added by the Bay Area band RST and a sharp guitar solo. If any song on this album deserves to be heard by adult alternative and Top 40 radio stations, it is this song. STANDING AT THE MOMENT succeeds because it proves that folk/pop bands based on strong songwriting and solid musicianship can appeal to a wide audience.
Edited by Henry Koretzky