JOHN Ellis shelves the electric, picks up an acoustic and ropes in Barry van Zyl (of Johnny Clegg fame) on percussion in his new 14-track album, Rural.
His debut, Come Out Fighting, was a sonic barrage: balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n roll protest. Rural , by contrast, is Ellis in a more reflective mood, looking at his own life, as well as Mzansi in the present day. Different artistically in tone and texture, it’s arguably a bolder statement.
Recorded in three days in Knysna, Rural is a testament to the melodic and songwriting ability of an artist who is finding his voice in a South African sphere, as life drifts further beyond his days of Tree63.
Clearly influenced by the ideology of protest songwriters like Bob Dylan, Ellis continues to contend for political ideas. The aspirations of so many South Africans for a better tomorrow hinge fundamentally on political issues — and Ellis approaches them head-on lyrically, with title tracks such as Rights All Wrong and Not A Nation Yet. It’s a bold approach, and it’s either your cup of tea or it’s not.
I tend to enjoy Ellis when he’s personal and when he’s hopeful, as in Any Minute Now, Never Had A Winter and the supreme Wonderful Place.
There are some brilliant tributes by Ellis to some obvious musical influences, including Jack Kerouac’s Blues (Elvis) and Landfall (Lennon/McCartney). Other standouts include the pop-rock Backroads and the dreamy Come Home.
Given the accomplishments of Tree63, it’s hard not to consider that on an artistic level, there’s a goldmine waiting to be unearthed from Ellis somewhere along his solo artist timeline. This album is another step in that direction.
•?Buy the album at www.johnellis. co.za or find him on Facebook or Twitter.
•?John Ellis will be performing at the Amble Inn in Empangeni on August?3.