James Elkington - Ever-Roving Eye Music Album Reviews

On the follow-up to his 2017 debut, the Chicago guitarist ventures beyond his folk roots, sounding looser and freer than ever. Despite the solo billing, he sounds more like a bandleader here.

Ever-Roving Eye, guitarist James Elkington’s second solo album, opens with a brief acoustic overture—a short melodic theme repeated just a few times, followed by a volley of deftly, delicately picked notes, barely a minute long altogether—that could be a holdover from his 2017 debut, the spare and thoughtful Wintres Woma. But then it’s interrupted by the sharp thwack of a snare drum from Spencer Tweedy, and “Nowhere Time” abruptly takes off in another direction: The tempo quickens, and Elkington’s acoustic is joined by a taut rhythm section and even an electric guitar tracing loops and spirals around his vocals. There’s a lot packed into that transition from solo to full band; it sets up one of Elkington’s most elaborate arrangements to date, allowing him to sound freer and looser than ever. It’s as if he’s trying to shed the expectations of folk guitar as a restrictive genre, one rooted deeply in the past. “Nowhere Time” sounds like Elkington and his small combo are more interested in the present.

That moment also signals Elkington’s disparate musical influences. The intro is grounded in the stylings of UK folk players: the stateliness of John Renbourn, the directness of Davy Graham, the jazzy agility of John Martyn. But “Nowhere Time” is grounded in American soil—in particular Chicago, which Elkington has called home for some 20 years. After fronting the inventive indie-rock outfit the Zincs throughout most of the ’00s, he spent the ’10s entrenching himself in the local music scene and playing with pretty much everybody in town, including Jon Langford’s Skull Orchard, Eleventh Dream Day, and post-rock icons Tortoise as well as their offshoot Brokeback. He was the only member of Tweedy not named Tweedy.

Lyrically, Elkington remains an eccentric songwriter, given to playful turns of phrase as ornate as they are cryptic. There’s a menagerie of animals roaming around Ever-Roving Eye, hyenas and leopards and wolves; at one point Elkington even declares himself a malamute. Such odd imagery doesn’t distract him from the mortal dread that seeps into these songs. Rather, it magnifies it, as though he’s staring down death with a chuckle. “You’ll be underground in no uncertain terms, and dozing with the worms,” he prophesies on “Nowhere Time.” “There’s a master plan somebody understands, and I wish that one was me.” The unstoppable passage of time is his primary theme, and he’s found an intriguing way of addressing it through his music: Ever-Roving Eye collapses time as Elkington combines elements from previous projects into his current folk palette, as though he’s playing in all the above groups all at once.

That’s especially enlivening after Wintres Woma, whose combination of Albion folk and American Primitive occasionally sounded a little too tidy. The focus on that album was clearly on Elkington, but on Ever-Roving Eye he sounds more like a bandleader. These new songs savor a wider variety of sounds, like the prismatic strings and woodwinds that flutter just under the surface of “Tempering Moon,” or the pile-up of voices on the psychedelic title track. Even Elkington’s vocals, which don’t have the range or the texture of his playing, sound more commanding here. He devises new tricks of phrasing and layering on “Late Jim’s Lament” to complement the song’s pulse, rooting deep in his lower register like he’s digging into peat. In this setting, even a more straightforward folk instrumental like “Rendlesham Way,” written and recorded for Wintres Woma, sounds more pointed, more purposeful, maybe even pricklier—as though Elkington is pushing against some expectation he has for himself. Or, as he sings on “Nowhere Time,” “It is time for you to move. You’d better get somewhere to go.”

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James Elkington - Ever-Roving Eye Music Album Reviews James Elkington - Ever-Roving Eye Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 Rating:

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