CD REVIEW: Ellen Tipper - The Juggler
By: Neil Thomas
"Sweet & Delicate"
- INDIE MUSIC DIGEST -
Artist: Ellen Tipper
Album: The Juggler
Strengths: Instrumentation, Songwriting craft, Lyrical
Maine-based Songstress Ellen Tippers 2010 release “The Juggler” is a breath-taking and beautifully crafted album full of sensitivity, warmth and charm. By the time I’d got through the first three songs, Ellen’s sweet and delicate voice had me captivated, so much so that I’ve had this CD on ‘repeat’ ever since. This is 44 minutes of bliss. A simmering melting pot of styles, touching on various genres, yet the distinctive voice, minimalist arrangements and thoughtful piano threads through the track list, keeping all the flavors tied nicely together.
The impactful “Caroline” has a delicate poignancy with the piano and cello set as counterpoints. Tipper builds tension with the rhythm of her lyric tripping lightly over her romantic piano melody. The subtle melancholy of each verse is beautifully contrasted as the song builds and climbs into each chorus. Tipper’s words are sufficiently vague to leave you pondering about the back-story. The title track “The Juggler” is an intimate and personal portrait of the singer-songwriter. The sprawling metaphor throwing up images of circus-life and performance pressure. It’s not that hard to make the connection to the difficulties of the modern mother and homemaker balancing the needs of the family with her own passions for creativity. “Non La” is an ambitious song with its tricky rhythm and far eastern iconography, yet Tipper’s vocal glides effortlessly over the verses. Ned Ferm provides the tenor sax break and although totally appropriate it seems to be a little over-cautious and held back in the mix, which is a bit of a shame. “Don’t Want You to Know” is a beautiful ballad, exquisitely intimate and seemingly ultra-personal. I love the melancholy here. Incredibly, Ellen invites the listener right into her very heart and soul and the emotion here is deeply touching. The song is followed immediately and just as sensitively by “Turbulent Mind”. The stark intimacy here is both fragile and vulnerable, reminding me of Suzanne Vega. Which is ironic, because Ellen’s voice on “Rainy Monday” has a similar pure quality much like Vega’s – particularly in the verses.
It’s hard to find any weaknesses on this superbly polished production, however I could hear a little hiss on the noise floor of “Sweet Love”, “Non La“ and at the start of “Turbulent Mind”. These are, of course, very minor flaws in light of the crisp quality of this recording. John Kurgan has worked hard to ensure Ellen’s songs shine in the very best light. After a few listens through, I wondered about the track order. Not that “Sweet Love” is a weak song in any way, shape or form, but it seemed to be (for me at least) a strange choice for an opener.
Overall this is a very accomplished and impressive album, easily worthy of attention and interest from the music loving public. It’s the space within the arrangements and the gorgeous intimacy between performer and audience that makes the CD so special. Together with the production, which benefits enormously from John Kurgans expertise and his stance against current trends of squeezing the life out music with digital compression. I wonder if Ellen Tipper will ever tour the UK? If not I guess I will need to get myself up to Maine the next time I visit the United States. This is one hot act I really would need to see!