Compass & Companion
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
One of the best things about being a music critic is having the opportunity to listen to all kinds of new talent. Sometimes, as a writer, it's a struggle to come up with the right words to let the reader know that this is not the best work of one of their faves. At other times you come across a fresh, new talent who is so good that you're practically jumping out of your skin to proclaim the news to a world of listeners. I am pleased to write here that Mark Erelli is just that kind of artist. The instant you hear the first few strains of music coming out of your sound system, you recognize the signature of a musician who has something new and compellingly different to say. That he is still in his young twenties is even more remarkable. |
Compass & Companion is actually Erelli's sophomore outing on Signature Sounds, a rich and musically brilliant followup to his self-titled 1999 debut. Giving him a leg up are two of the finest guitarists in the country, Duke Levine, who tours with Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Kevin Barry, who tours with Paula Cole and Carol Noonan. Hailing from western Massachusetts, he has toured with the likes of Jim Henry and Cliff Eberhardt. This man knows how to surround himself with the best musical talent available, making his own star shine brighter.
The recording opens with a song called Ghost, a rich blend of guitars, mandola and great percussion by Lorne Entress, who also produced the CD. It describes the terrible ache of wanting someone who is not arouond; someone who is simply a ghost who remains unseen. Songwriting doesn't get much better than this:
The title track, Compass & Companion, is a duet with contemporary country great Kelly Willis. It's a classic road song, with a melodic, country feel, lending itself to the possibility of play on country radio.
And, speaking of country, the delightful sound of western swing in Why Should I Cry Over You transports us to a place south of the Mason-Dixon line where you want to get up and move across a country dance floor. It's infectious.
Little Sister rocks with a classic guitar style that harks back to the sound of Chuck Berry. Erelli goes for broke on a harmonica solo. This one celebrates the bounty of profits to be made from the "new" economy.
It's always difficult for a songwriter to say "I love you" in a new and different way, but Mark Erelli succeeds in doing just that in Before I Knew Your Name. Duke Levine's mandola adds a sweet and poignant note that evokes an aura of memory and reminiscences.
Take My Ashes to the River has a traditional folk sound which leads us into a tale of family adversity, hard work, sickness and death. Dave Dick on banjo and Lorne Entress on the jaw harp and percussion lend the perfect regional flavor to this tune. And the remarkable Duke Levine, on lap steel guitar, provides the otherworldly sound of what it must be like to cross over from the land of the living into that great unknown void of death.
I know that the year 2001 is still young, but I'm hedging my bets and placing Mark Erelli and Compass & Companion on my list of the year's best recordings. It's not often that one has the opportunity to get onboard the moving train of a great new talent right at the beginning, but here it is. If I had to pick one voice to represent the face of contemporary acoustic music, I would choose Mark Erelli. Hop to it and get onboard!