A review of "Rural" from Dave Wood at www.louderthanthemusic.com.
South African singer/songwriter John Ellis toured the world and won awards with the worship band Tree63, before returning to his homeland to kick off a solo career. His debut solo album, 'Come Out Fighting' (2010) won him yet more acclaim as he put together an album he described in his own words as being filled with
"wry comedy and a fair bit of ranting".
Now John has recorded his second solo album, 'Rural' featuring all new acoustic material. The gentle opener 'Rights All Wrong' instantly gives you a glimpse of those silky Ellis vocals, so distinctive and memorable from the Tree63 days. The steady tempo is mainly dictated by an acoustic guitar and soft drum beat giving a moody feel as the chorus asks,"With our human rights all wrong and our dreams all up for sale, can no one keep a promise these days?"
As you might expect 'Jack Kerouac's Blues' has a bluesy guitar feel, with an almost Elvis-style vocal, while 'Any Minute Now' has a softer, guitar plucked sound with some beautifully sung near-falsetto lyrics in a modern day lullaby.
Some of the best guitars are to be found on 'Backroads', with a little more depth laid on as the sound blends several different guitars for the first time to produce an impressive array of tones."Is everything clearer down the back roads of our dreams?"John asks. There's even a Bowie vibe to some of the backing vocals on this one.
'Come Home' manages to find some atmospheric sounds from the instruments employed to produce a moving song, before 'Landfall' quickens the pace with a catchy rhythm. A simple piano is brought in to lead 'Sure Enough' which once again demonstrates what a talented singer Ellis is, using his refined voice to bring emotion to a hushed song of reflection.
'Back of Beyond' is a largely instrumental track, as the musicians jam away in an acoustic setting, with just a very soft vocal low in the mix singing"Somewhere in the back of beyond"over and over from time to time. It's an intriguing track mid way through the album, and a highly enjoyable interlude. The moody 'Never Had A Winter' is another musically brilliant track with a simple but moving chorus of,"You were always there... for me", which lifts the feel of the song out of the doldrums and into an aura of happiness.
Opening with bongo drums and acoustic guitar riffs, 'We Are Not a Nation Yet' looks at South Africa's troubled past and its struggles to break free of those problems."While the past still lingers, still segregated, we are not a nation."It's sung from the heart, sonically expressing frustration with well thought out lyrics. Likewise, 'A Good Idea At the Time' tells a story, a personal story, looking back at decisions made and the eventual consequences.
A song titled 'Three-Day Rampage' sounds to me like it should be a heavy metal track, but this is some good old fashioned country-blues, complete with harmonica and even a bit of folk. There's more evidence of Ellis' talent as a word-smith with lyrics like,"I've got 10,000 songs but I'm a full record short. Need the whole collection to make that connection."The song gradually builds its speed, reaching a near frenzy, before slowing again.
'Got My Wish' closes the album with some great guitar work as this original and well crafted album comes to an end. As an acoustic album this was never going to be a loud rock and roll release, but instead John creates a masterpiece of gentle, vibey songs, full of reflections on all aspects of his life, his country and the world in general. Yes there is some ranting once again, there's also some despairing, some hoping, lots of questioning, and a ton of excellent music.
Review by Dave Wood
LTTM Rating 4 Out of 5 Stars
Never Had a Winter