A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
How many singer-songwriters out there bang out their masters degree only to set it aside for the love of music? How many do it by the age of twenty-four? Mark Erelli is no fool. His talent makes obvious where he needs to be in this life. Erelli owns a gift that is polished way beyond his young age. His vocal style will remind many of singers like Ellis Paul and Martin Sexton, and he is every bit the talent of either. With a large dose of country in these songs, Erelli's songwriting is masterful. With songs like Do It Everyday, and I Always Return, Erelli is in danger of becoming the future of songwriting for the Nashville scene, which is much coveted by writers for selling their songs. I Always Return is in the classic country vein: "you're the page I can't turn /but I can't bear to read /I always return to your memory." The hot country vibe is present as well in Midnight Train, a banjo-driven country song with great interplay between the electric guitar and banjo, played here by Duke Levine and Dave Dick. It is a classic song about young lovers running away to be together.
Again with that rootsy edge, Erelli serves up glorious songs such as Thought I Heard You Knocking: "I thought I heard you knocking /tapping soft and light /like the sounds an old house offers /when it settles for the night /you used to be just as familiar /like whiskey on my breath /now whenever you come calling /you scare me half to death." The song also shows us that Erelli is no slouch on the harmonica. While the rocking country song is one area Erelli has already mastered, the poignant folk song is another. In Only Wondering Where You Are, Erelli pairs his own beautiful lyrics ("I got this space inside I just can't seem to fill /don't you know sometimes it seems I never will /I ain't wishing you could still be by my side /I'm only wondering where you are tonight") with the classic strains of The Band's first verse of It Makes No Difference. Some sweet dobro here, and all over this album as well, from Roger Williams.
It's a heady combination of Erelli's impassioned vocals and lyrics that will keep you coming back to this record. One Too Many Midnights is stylistically what you might imagine Iris Dement or Emmylou Harris singing by its simple feel. That vibe is countered and deepened with some organ from Joe Barbato and harmony from Rani Arbo, as well as Levine's now trademark electric guitar sound. Erelli is far from the simple appellation of country/roots inspired artist. He has a vivid contemporary side as well that shines on River Road, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, and the insightful Hollow Man, a rollicking, beat-driven song with an organ and percussive guitar backdrop. It is a bit of a statement about the political scene in this country: "they picked another one off the vine /scooped out the seeds in the back of his mind /filled up his head with half-truths and lies /and put the finishing touch on the perfect disguise." It later goes to say "then came the day his cover was blown /their little Frankenstein monster got out of control /so he looked to the ones who had saved him before /only to find out that they'd changed all the locks on the doors." A song perhaps written during some of the recent fun within our own government.
Northern Star, which finishes off the album, begins softly, breaking into an anthemic drive. In another fine example of Erelli's ability to bring together a fabulous cast of characters, labelmate Louise Taylor and Ben Demerath chime in on the chorus: "I'm the northern star, you're the southern cross /we are never alone; look for me if you get lost /I will shine you home...." Levine's guitar is once again outstanding along with some great mandolin rhythm from Dick. If this record is heard, Mark Erelli will move quickly into the realm of the larger music industry. He's on his way, so keep an eye on this guy.
| || |
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz