CD REVIEW: Ellsworth - Bright Red Road
By Michael Nicholson
Album: Bright Red Road
Label: none (indie artist)
Genre: Americana, Folk rock
Sounds Like: R.E.M, David Gray, Bruce Springsteen
Production/ Musicianship Grade: 8/10
Commercial Value: 6/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skills: 7/10
Best Songs: Like an actor in a play, Whip-poor-will Mountain, Theme Park New Orleans
Strengths: The uniqueness and soul of Ellsworth's voice and ideas, songwriting
Weaknesses: The background vocals, the tone used for the most of the electric guitars, the overpowering of the bass guitar, mixing quality
Ellsworth, a singer/songwriter from New York, has been at it since the 70's, but didn't release his first CD until 1999. It appears that, Bright Red Road, will be his third release since then. He incorporates all different types of musical traditions from zydeco to blues to folk in his own unique blend of americana/folk rock. You can view more information on his other releases and a short bio at his website, or by friending him on facebook and myspace.
The album opens up with Ellsworth's unique vocals and acoustic guitar on the track, "Like an Actor in a Play". This first song puts me in the mind of David Gray's Lost Songs album, with its stripped down, rugged and raw brilliance. When the other instruments do eventually chime in, they sit back in the mix enough to let Ellsworth do his thing. I would say as far as emotionally and vocally, this is the best track on the whole album and really makes you feel what is being sung as well as played. Next, we have the title track, Bright Red Road, which is a political love song sounding like an old "doo-wop" or like something written by Roy Orbison, but with a modern folk twist. The lyrics are a little odd because in the verses, Ellsworth is talking about politics or government, but in the chorus he's talking about being in love and liking red wine and going "where nobody goes, we can take off our clothes". The melody does get stuck in your head, however odd the words are, and the song is definitely unique with a few little surprises thrown in. The third track, Saxophone, sounds like a mix between R.E.M. The Police, and the English Beat. Its an interesting song that features some nice saxophone riffs and a driving 80's beat. The fourth song, Theme Park New Orleans, is a great song stylistically and lyrically, as it truly captures its theme and starts off with a marching band-like tuba that drives the whole song. In this song, Ellsworth discusses Hurricane Katrina and the effects it had, and how he never thought he would have to say, " I used to have New Orleans". The rest of the album is pretty much a mixture of the sounds that are found in these first four songs, just maybe a little more rocking in some places or a little more bluesy in others.
I don't have a whole lot of negative things to say about the album, but maybe just a few suggestions that could have made it a little better. For one, the bass guitar kind of overpowers the mix and and cancels out some of the good frequencies you'd otherwise hear in Ellsworth's voice and the other instruments. They should have definitely compressed the bass or put a gate on it or lowered its volume or something cause the tone of the bass is not too bad, but just overwhelming. Another thing, I don't know if it was just the bass problem all over again, but the electric guitars sounded a little too thin and trebly, with that 80's pop sound. I mean maybe there are some people that like that sound, but I am not one of them. It sounds like someone was plugging directly into the mixing board and just adding effects on later. Lastly, I think Ellsworth could have changed the keys of a few of the songs or sung them a little differently cause none of the rest of the songs on the album touch the power and soul his voice carries in that first song.
Overall, I think Ellsworth is a great artist and if he would have been releasing CD's back in the 70's when he had first started, we might have heard of him a little sooner. I wouldn't say this CD is the best representation of his music because there are some technical issues that draw away from that. However, with money behind him and the right producer, he has the voice and the ideas to be a major success, maybe not a mainstream success, but definitely a success on a bigger scale. I didn't like every song, and maybe he could have cut out one or two, but the ones I did like are enough to make me a fan versus just being a critic.
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