THAT Music Magazine (For A Song)
Whenever I try to find perfection in a folk album I know I’m not coming from the right place. Trying to find perfection in anything is a faulty venture from the start. Instead what validates folk and its branches are the imperfections, the bits of grayscale reality that sneak into the songcraft. These imperfections highlight the pain and heartbreak of a life thoroughly lived, but the gift of any great musician is balancing this melancholy with joy. On his ninth album For a Song, folk fixture Mark Erelli finds the perfections in the imperfections creating what is likely one of his more self-reflective albums to date.
Moving between Americana, folk, and at times a definite country twang, it’s hard to deny the diversity of sound Erelli has arranged for this latest release, but all of this is par for the course. With For a Song the touch of magic comes in with Erelli’s own singular voice, one that fills the roles of storyteller and troubadour with unsurpassed ease. Few tracks exemplify this more than the title track itself, which with stark honesty describes the duality of both father and touring musician: “The road is not your friend, it’s just a means to an end/I’ll be home don’t wait up, just leave the light on/I’ll take it all on faith you’ll understand someday why I did all I did while I was gone for a song.” These lyrics feel autobiographical as they dig into the six-year gap between Erelli’s 2010 album, Little Vigils and For a Song, a gap which saw the birth of his second son and his own burgeoning career as a sideman.
In other tracks such as “Analog Hero”, Erelli transplants that same vividness into inventive wordplay as he describes a living anachronism doing his best to render his services as a small-time “fix-it-man.” “Maybe he’s crazy for trying to save what’s already gone,” he sings. “Just an analog hero in a world full of zeroes and ones.” Brought to life by the rich character and range of his voice, it’s easy to feel a smile creep across your face, something that doesn’t change even on repeated listens.
Later tracks such as “Magic” see Erelli biting into the nostalgia of youth as he paints a picture of someone, perhaps himself, reflecting upon his boyhood fascination with the heroes and villains filling up the panels of his comic books: “Now I know that it’s done with computers and greenscreens, zeroes and ones/But somewhere in the cellar I got those comics in a box/I meant to sell them but I guess I just forgot.” With the subtle callback of zeroes and ones he gives a well-rounded continuity to the album. There’s a concentrated effort to fashion a pocket world within For a Song, one that explores the roles each of us are born into and those that we pick up over time.
Closing out in the album with “French King” there’s a show-stopping soulfulness that Erelli does well to conjure up, bringing together elements of his life and career into a reminiscence on mortality: “Roll on, river, restless for the sea/Take this valley and wash it clean/Who can say where a soul will find peace?/Who will keep the river from the sea?” Building upon this are the subtle vocals of Paula Cole intertwining with Erelli’s own, both of which are sent on their way by a bright burst of harmonica that gradually fades to a close. With For a Song, there’s a range and depth that only comes from years of experience and hours spent whittling away at the lyrics to shape something vivid, powerful, and best of all, imperfect.
by Ziggy Merritt