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Monday, February 11, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 10, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Caleb Elliott, by Joshua Black Wilkins
Despite the valiant efforts of folks like Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, our kind of music will never go mainstream.  The gospel of americana, and roots music will always be an underground affair, a message preached by independent labels and under-the-radar blogs like ours, to a choir of the converted.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's why I adore operations like Single Lock Records, a boutique record label and recording studio with deep roots in its Florence, Alabama home.  Owned and operated in part by singer-songwriter John Paul White and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), Single Lock has issued R&B-approved projects from Cedric Burnside, Nicole Atkins, the Pollies and more.  From an interview with White:  Being able to make a proper record in a proper studio with a producer and other musicians and not have the clock ticking over their head ... Not have it be so expensive they have to cram the entire record into an hour of studio time or have to make it on a laptop in somebody’s closet. Once you have that, then it opens up so many more avenues where you just need to get out in a van and tour your ass off. And you have that calling card: here’s who we are, not a close facsimile of what we could be.

Single Lock's newest calling card comes in the form of Caleb Elliott's debut full-length,  Forever to Fade (Mar 8).  Elliott is a classically-trained cellist from Alabama by way of Louisiana, a go-to master of orchestral touches who has contributed to projects by Dylan LeBlanc and Lera Lynn, among others. The product of an unconventional religious upbringing that removed him from most outside influences, Elliott foregoes the typical avenues to his craft and charts his own course through the swamp-pop and country-soul of his Louisiana soil.

Elliott hits a sweet spot with the sounds of Forever to Fade.  It’s well-steeped in classic 60s and 70s Shoals sounds, even as he and producer Tanner stack things up in an unexpected fashion.  They’re familiar pieces, the guitar and keys, the deep and rewarding grooves, along with a deceptively soulful vocal a’la Andrew Combs or Sam Lewis.  Topping it all off are Elliott’s strings, swooping and dipping on “Get Me Out of Here”, dripping with honey on “Makes Me Wonder”.

Forever launches with that masterful "Makes Me Wonder", a slippery-cool track that employs sitar and glockenspiel alongside those strings.  Like much of the record, the song's brighter surface is countered by darker, conflicted messages:  They say there's power in the blood / Is that why you can't get enough / Heaven help me understand / How to never be that kind of man.

Historically, the most seemingly sparkling pop serves as a vehicle to deliver those barbed messages.  "Burns Like Hell" is a strummy and tuneful gem belying a center of regret:  These are the shivers that run down her spine / These are the places she knows so well / But she don't wanna go / 'Cause it burns like hell.  "On Your Own" rides on the sort of insistent retro go-go groove that Elliott helped build for Nicole Atkins' most recent record.  While those retro Shoals references abound, Elliott is a genuinely capable artist whose lyrics and vocal delivery lend the album a deeper and more personal resonance.

Forever to Fade dips deep into the Southern gothic music well, offering a suitably diverse helping of country and folk-leaning sounds.  "Old Souls" is a lovely Band-like ode to an idyllic place and time:  Here's to you / Looking back at me, Elliott sings, accompanied by piano lines worthy of Richard Manuel.  Classical guitar flourishes and cello are showcased on the dark folk of "Till the Tides Turn":  Till the wind and the tides turn / And the harvest is come / We'll forget what we've done here / Find a new way to store up the hatred they're longing for.

Two of the CD's finest moments await at the close of the set, a pair of songs that reinforce the range of Caleb Elliott's gifts.  "El Paso" is achingly melodic, a dusky reflection on distance and the liberation of the road, glimmering with fine guitar work:  Gave away all I couldn't take with me / The only way I could ever truly set me free.   The closer, "Black Lungs", unexpectedly recalls David Gilmour/Pink Floyd guitars, echoing with a gorgeously psychedelic big sky reverb.

Forever to Fade is rich with surprises from Caleb Elliott and his collaborators at Single Lock Records.  We'd be missing too much to write it off as a mere retro project.  Despite the rewardingly familiar touches, there is a unique talent to Elliott's work that overflows those boundaries.  Elliott's debut is the sort of hidden treasure that I've come to expect from the small, independent labels like Single Lock, a greatly appreciated gift that keeps me digging into those darker corners of our kind of music.

^ Caleb Elliott, "Burns Like Hell" Forever to Fade  (Single Lock, Mar 8)
- Shovels & Rope, "The Wire" By Blood  (Dualtone, Apr 12)
- Michael Chapman, "Full Bottle Empty Heart" True North  (Paradise of Bachelors, 19)
- Steve Earle, "LA Freeway" Guy  (New West, Mar 29)
- Holmes Brothers, "Gasoline Drawers" State of Grace  (Alligator, 07)
- Charles Wesley Godwin, "Shrinks and Pills" Seneca  (CWG, Feb 15)
- Cass McCombs, "I Followed the River South to What" Tip of the Sphere  (Anti, 19)
- Anna Tivel, "Minneapolis" The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, Apr 19)
- Gourds, "Everybody's Missing the Sun" Shinebox  (Munich, 01)
- Blank Range, "Gutters" In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, 19)
- Meat Puppets, "Sea of Heartbreak" Dusty Notes  (Megaforce, Mar 8)
- Dead Tongues, "Road to Heaven" single  (Dead Tongues, 19)  D
- Robert Ellis, "When You're Away" Texas Piano Man  (New West, Feb 14)
- Ona, "American Fiction" American Fiction  (Ona, 16)
- Todd Snider, "Like a Force of Nature (feat. Jason Isbell)" Cash Cabin Sessions Vol 3  (Aimless, Mar 15)
- Mavis Staples, "Can You Get to That (live)" Live in London  (Anti, 19)
- Jason Ringenberg, "God Bless the Ramones" Stand Tall  (Ringenberg, 19)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Undress" Undress  (Yep Roc, May 3)  D
- Gurf Morlix, "Backbeat of the Dispossessed" Impossible Blue  (Morlix, 19)  D
- J Tillman, "Milk White Air" Cancer and Delirium  (Yer Bird, 07)
- David Huckfelt, "Still and Still Moving" Stranger Angels  (Huckfelt, Feb 22)  D
- Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Love My Boy" Light'n Up  (Dine Alone, Feb 22)
- Mercury Rev, "Courtyard (feat. Beth Orton)" Bobbie Gentry's the Delta Sweete Revisited  (Partisan, 19)
- Reed Foehl, "Stealing Starlight" Lucky Enough  (Foehl, 19)
- Rod Melancon, "Corpus Christi Carwash" Pinkville  (Blue Elan, Apr 5)  D
- Simon Joyner, "You Got Under My Skin" Grass Branch & Bone  (Woodsist, 15)
- Cale Tyson, "What Doesn't Kill You" narcissist  (Tyson, 19)
- Over the Rhine, "Love & Revelation" Love & Revelation  (Great Speckled Dog, Mar 15)
- Pieta Brown, "Lovin' You Still" Shimmer  (Red House, 09)
- Sharon Van Etten, "Never Grow Old" Gospel of Eureka  (Palmieri, 19)  D

This week we're blessed with the release of Mercury Rev's remarkable ode to Bobbie Gentry's Delta Sweete.  Michael Chapman's True North hits stores, as well as Jason Ringenberg's first solo work in years.  Stay tuned for next week's big release date, featuring a sprawling array of new projects from Long Ryders, Hayes Carll, Rosie Flores and more.  JS Ondara brings us americana by way of Kenya, inspired by Dylan.  Ryan Bingham and Robert Ellis add to their generous discography.  And we'll have full access to Charles Wesley Godwin's Seneca (reviewed here a couple weeks ago).

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