The Memorial Hall Recordings
Signature Sounds Recordings
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
For those who have not yet been introduced to the sounds of Mark Erelli, he is a singer/songwriter based in the Boston area and is fast gaining notoriety both locally and nationally. In the three short years since his debut CD, not only has he won Local awards in Boston, but he has also won the Kerrville New Folk award. His unique voice and overall style doesn't cleanly fit in any particular category. He blends the best of Folk, Rock and just a smidgen of Country to come up with a comforting sound that's both relaxing and energizing.
I find the sound of The Memorial Hall Recordings and the history of how and where it was recorded, to some degree, even more captivating than the songs themselves. Memorial Hall was built to commemorate those local men of Monson, Massachusetts who fought in the Civil War. To say the building is rich with history, plus what Mark calls cobwebs and ghosts is probably an understatement and the natural acoustics are just incredible. The six musicians set up in a semi-circle on the stage, turned on the recording machines and left them running all day for three plus days. This allowed the capture of spontaneous, complete performances of each song as well as some fun conversation in between - but never to the point of distraction. A big bonus is the enhanced portion for home computers, which previews video footage from the sessions.
Most of the songs have that wonderful flowing, melodic, story quality that we Erelli fans have come to associate with his recordings. A few upbeat toe-tapping tunes were thrown in for good measure. Though not in a morose way, nearly each selection is at least slightly tinged with the themes of loss and/or the difficulties of relationships. This seemed quite befitting the ambiance of the Memorial Hall and what it stands for.
There are a few tracks that stand out ahead of the bunch for me. Call You Home is a love song, but not in the traditional sense of being sung to or about a particular person. It talks of the love of a region and it's people. Summer Night is another atypical love song, but this is one of yearning and searching for a place to belong. Little Torch is a gentle instrumental lullaby. The haunting melody of Ichabod is quite captivating as is the ragtime, western-swing kind of sound coming from What's Changed. The only two songs I can say I really don't care for are The Drinking Gourd and Blue-Eyed Boston Boy. The first being very repetitive and not at all capturing and the second having a very predominant organ accompaniment that just didn't do anything for me.
All things said, I think this is a wonderful inclusion to any Mark Erelli fan's collection; however, I don't think it makes the best introduction to those who aren't familiar with his work. Folks in that category might do better to start with one of his previous recordings - the self-titled Mark Erelli or Compass and Companion - before picking up The Memorial Hall Recordings.
Additional information on the history/making of The Memorial Hall Recordings, can be found at www.markerelli.com