Elmore Magazine (For A Song)
This is the album Mark Erelli has long wanted to make. He just needed some time away from his many sideman gigs supporting Lori McKenna, Paula Cole and others. He’s released several solo albums and a duo project with Jeffrey Foucault, but his last album, Little Vigils, came out in 2010. Says Erelli, “I needed to take a break after the record I put out in 2010. My second son had just been born. My work as a sideman was taking off at the same time. I realized I couldn’t keep up the same pace on all fronts. Something had to give or I wouldn’t get to see my kids grow up. So I let myself go wherever the musical energy was… It always came back to one phrase: for a song.” The results are a dozen gorgeous, melodic tunes, free of the political and rebellious angst that characterized some of Mark’s previous albums. These are introspective, thought provoking, celebratory love songs that are eminently listenable.
As Boston native, he seems awed by the wide open spaces of Oklahoma in the opening track as he conjures up images of howling winds, a haunting moon and a boring preacher keeping him company on the car radio. The title track follows with its indelible, soaring chorus and again some sharp imagery like “yellowed books with dog-eared pages.” His humorous nod to modern times comes across on “Analog Hero.” The joy of love comes across in “Wayside.” He assumes the character of a common janitor in conversation with God in “Look Up.” “Netherlands” and “Magic” prove easy to sing along with. In an album full of rhetorical questions, he may have saved the best for the closer, “French King,” a nighttime pondering on mortality while crossing the bridge over a turbulent river.
Erelli plays seven different instruments, mostly stringed, while selectively supported by keyboards, pedal steel, banjo, bass and drums. Vocalists Deni Hlavinka and Paula Cole each provide colorful harmonies on five of the eleven tunes. Others feature a background choir of four. You can sense the care that went into his work as you listen to these unadorned songs that carry keen observation. Erelli describes the process this way, “I kept going back over them, revising and rewriting. I took whole verses out of my songs – verses that I loved – and lo and behold, the songs improved. The message was distilled and amplified.”
It’s a troubling commentary on today’s music business, when a triple threat artist as gifted as Erelli needs a Kickstarter campaign to fund his album. Fortunately, he found the support. Like a fine craftsman, Erelli is a masterful singer-songwriter delivering a fine product, free of defects and solid enough to need no embellishment.
by Jim Hynes