Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter Mark Erelli has released one superb recording after another since his self-titled debut on Signature Sounds in 1999. He has an appealing tenor voice that is completely his own: warm, engaging and resonant with an incredible musical range from contemporary folk to pop, bluegrass and country. He has written songs with some of the best of his contemporaries and, has performed as a sideman on acoustic guitar and backing vocals with the likes of Lori McKenna and Catie Curtis. He is the rare musician without ego, which takes him to interesting places musically both in front of and behind the microphone.
I have to say that Erelli has been one of my favorite musicians of the last ten years I have been writing about music. He is always experimenting with musical sounds, lyrics and a variety of collaborators. Each of his seven previous recordings shows a different side of his talent. His new recording, Little Vigils, is no exception.
Little Vigils is a labor of love, recorded with a group of Erelli's friends from the local bluegrass scene and produced by Zak Hickman, who was behind Erelli's last project, Delivered. The theme is the natural world and the role nature plays in our everyday lives. There is a lot of joy and celebration here—of friends, family and the simple pleasure of looking at the moon and enjoying a summer's eve.
The CD opens with August, Erelli's paean to the beauty of nature and the importance of family. The simple melody, Charlie Rose on banjo, Jake Amerding on fiddle along with Erelli on acoustic guitar, make this song a pleasure to listen to. And it is here that Erelli reveals the little vigils he keeps as his wife and he sneak upstairs to look at the peaceful night scene of their little boy asleep with his dreams. As the lyrics state, "a fool would ask for more."
Several months before the recording of Little Vigils was begun, Erelli was one of a handful of artists invited to the UK to take part in a songwriting project put together to celebrate the work and life of Charles Darwin. Out of this project came a couple of songs including Kingdom Come, which addresses the role of faith in Darwin's marriage. Here Erelli takes on Darwin's voice—his doubt in the benevolence of a creator who has taken his daughter from him—yet his deep awe and regard for the natural world remain:
The wasp she lays an egg
Basement Days takes us on a detour into rock and roll, and pulls up memories of playing drums in the local band of the songwriter's teen years. Erelli brings out his electric guitar and adds a little cowbell to the mix. This tune is pure joy to listen to.
One of my favorite tunes on the CD is a dark love song called Hemlock Grove. Unlike most of the material here, it explores loss and despair. Jake Amerding on mandolin captures the gloomy mood, and Erelli's vocal is spare, pure and lovely.
The wonderful I Took the Moon for a Walk"has the sound of a contemporary pop standard. It also has a bluesy vibe that is quite alluring. The song was inspired by a children's book of the same title. There is a string section in the middle of the song, which is simply gorgeous.
I think Erelli saved the best for last in the utterly beautiful melody and lyrics of"Pauline, a soaring love song. It's just Erelli and his guitar and a story that stays with you:
Climbed me a mountain
I will admit that I am a longtime Mark Erelli fan and admirer. His voice and ease with a lyric and a melody won me over from his first recording. His music only gets better and richer with time. His warm embrace of the human spirit and the human experience is uplifting to the ear and to the soul. In Little Vigils he fully embraces the pull of the natural world. The production is simple and natural and captures each song in a perfect frame. This is a jewel of a recording. It belongs in every music lover's collection. And you will remember the songs the next time you see the moon over a darkening night, as well as the sound of the katydid in late summer.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Roberta B. Schwartz.
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