It’s a damn shame that the grinding squeal of metal-on-metal of a train coming into the station, thick steam billowing out through the waiting crowd of gunslingers, priests and thieves is imagery so co-opted by generic Americana bands and Morricone-wanna-be’s, because that is the stuff of poets. Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waitin’ On A Train” and Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” I’m talking about Nick Cave’s “The Proposition,” (not any of that Young Gun’s shit) the stuff with the kind of grit that stays under your nails when you die.
And that brings us to Luke Elliot. This New Jersey native’s first full-length record, “In Our Embrace”, has all of that grit in every crack and crevasse of its runtime. And not in any sort of pedal-steel parody way, but in the way of withered waltzes, barreling ragtime, and hypnotic piano dirges underpinned by literate narrative that coats each melody like chipped paint on a broken down jalopy. There are some easy comparisons to the aforementioned Cohen, and occasional shades of Dylan (Ballad of a Thin Man, perhaps?), and maybe some of those real piano-y Tom Waits’ albums that still haven’t gotten their due (“Foreign Affairs” or “One From the Heart”). But that doesn’t really get to the heart of it. Those guys color the prose of everyone who’s written a song in the last 40 years.
He’s channeling something much older and creakier than those guys, and still delivering it a way that connects him with a very short list of modern writers. Jagjaguwar’s Simon Joyner, perhaps, or Josh Pearson since he’s left the cacophony of “Lift to Experience” behind him. Basically, Luke Elliot is creating a sound without a whole lot of direct lineage, yet it still sounds lived in and familiar, the words streaming by as you try to catch up and parse the meaning like you almost knew the song from a dream. You know, the one where you’re being hunted by wolves while your lover calls to you from an impossible distance?
For all the delicate intimacy of the record, Elliot’s live show is another beast altogether - backed by Ryan Stokes (drums and accordion), Richard Russano (electric guitar) and Ben Fleisher (bass), they re-engineer the songs into Jerry Lee Lewis piano-wrecking rave-ups, the band effortlessly funneling the brimming intensity under the surface of the record into a full-on euphoric rock show. They’re playing all over the Northeast these days, so make sure to catch them when they roll into town. You’ll know them by the fog of swirling steam and the shuddered shriek of old metal coming to a stop.
-Morgan King, President of Yer Bird Records
Luke Elliot-Vocals, Guitar, and Piano
Ryan Stokes-Drums and accordion
Ben Fleicher- Bass
In Our Embrace- Debut LP released by Yer Bird Records in 2009
Luke Elliot- Death of a Widow- (Yerbird Records)
[+ Show ]
Luke Elliot – Death of a Widow – (Yerbird Records) You don’t so much listen to Luke Elliot’s ...
Luke Elliot – Death of a Widow – (Yerbird Records)
You don’t so much listen to Luke Elliot’s music as you absorb it — almost like a steaming aural shower that washes over you, and it stings a bit. The second release from Connecticut singer/songwriter (and fixture on the NYC performance circuit) is the five-song EP Death of a Widow, which features a full-on barrage of imagery ranging from pirates and preachers to sinking ships and old oak trees.
It’s a bit overwhelming to delve into at first, but like a classic Faulkner novel (take your pick of the major works like Absalom, Absalom!, Light in August, or The Sound and the Fury) once you’re in, there are many rewards. Also, with the more literate songwriters like Dylan and Elvis Costello, it takes a few listens to really get these songs, and although your interpretation may be different from the next guy’s, it’s still meaningful and worth the effort.
“Get ‘Em While They’re Hot”, the opening track of Death of A Widow (a title with grave and weighty subtext if ever there was one), begins with primal drum and bass and mysterious synth-vibes with a line that lets us know exactly the odd journey we’re undertaking: “Oh I’m crossing muddy waters, boys./Ten feet to grace, but the gators they’re all circling below.” Throughout, Elliot’s voice contains a baffled amazement, straddling a border between rationality and insanity. It’s simultaneously unsettling and enthralling. “You never know what kind of trouble success may bring,” he crows. “Well if this don’t work I don’t know what in the world I’m gonna do./I have been stuck here for years with you.”
It’s the same itchy quality one gets from Tom Waits or Nick Cave at their most toubling and gritty best.
“When That Great Ship Went Down” sounds like a dark love song disguised as a sea shanty containing so many love-as-maritime-disaster metaphors that you can almost taste the salt on your lips, “drowning in the sea’s cruel laughter.”
“Thing to Thing” is a tale of obsession and desire that sounds oddly reminiscent of “Ballad of A Thin Man” yet retaining an ancient originality all its own, while the stripped-down guitar/vocal on “The World Ain’t A Friend of Mine” could be a lost Woody Guthrie tune (of course, we at ATF simply love that): “The dirt that’s on my hands suddenly turns to sand/And it slips off into the sea.”
Overall, Death of A Widow has a dusty, timeless quality like that of roaming balladeers, buskers, honky tonk saloon piano players, and this is especially prevalent on the title track. Elliot covers so much ground here that it’s difficult to keep up, but the song is swaddled in melodies befitting a religious hymn. Again, with repeated listenings you pick up little gems here and there. It helps, too, that he’s backed by some amazing New York City musicians: Richard Russano (electric guitar), Ryan Stokes (drums, accordion, trumpet), Ben Fleisher (bass) and Mike Skaggs (bass).
Hats off to the talented Dave Van Witt (of Sidewalk Dave) who mixed the recordings.
This one is highly recommended, and we look forward to more enticing and baffling journeys from Luke Elliot in the future.
Short URL: http://awaitingtheflood.com/?p=4487
Luke Elliot, Death of a Widow
[+ Show ]
Written by Brian LaRue Wednesday, 07 July 2010 21:55 Elison Jackson and Luke Elliot, reviewed ...Written by Brian LaRue
Wednesday, 07 July 2010 21:55
Elison Jackson and Luke Elliot, reviewed
Luke Elliot, Death of a Widow (Yerbird Records, yerbird.com). The last thing I heard by Luke Elliot was a shaky, if spirited, 2008 EP. Wish I had the chance to hear his 2009 full-length — it would probably provide clues to the tremendous growth he displays on his latest release. The barrelling tempos, art-blues aspirations and careening vocal melodies of his earlier work have given way to brooding, swaggering folk-rock, composed and played with a strong sense of traditional American folk style and the pop-song format. Elliot and his band craft focused arrangements where slinky grooves and a tense sonic spaciousness come across as genuinely sexy or menacing. He still pulls up his haunted yowl when he needs to, but that unhinged character of his voice is punctuation here rather than the entire point; there’s a confidence and resolve in his voice that allow his folksy melodies to stick in one’s mind. I’m no closer to understanding what Elliot wants us to get while they’re hot in “Get ’Em While They’re Hot” (which appeared in a very different arrangement on that earlier EP), but I’m much more inclined to take his word for it now.
Luke Elliot plays at BAR July 14.
MAKING A MIX WITH LUKE ELLIOT
[+ Show ]
By Patrick Ferrucci Who: Luke Elliot, a New Jersey-born New Haven resident. The singer/songwriter...By Patrick Ferrucci
Who: Luke Elliot, a New Jersey-born New Haven resident. The singer/songwriter (www.myspace.com/lukeelliot) writes piano-based pop that has a real old-time feel. It’s really timeless music, the kind of tunes you could easily imagine coming out in the ’70s. It’s big, well-produced and filled with instrumental surprises. The 25-year-old performs with a three-piece band behind him.
Where you can see him: Luke and his band will be at Cafe Nine at 9 p.m. Thursday. He’ll be opening for the very good Sidewalk Dave, another New Haven act that specializes in making music for today that sounds a wee bit timeless. But enough with all this, here’s Luke’s mix:
- “Four Women,” Nina Simone — This is one of the angriest, poignant and powerful songs I’ve ever heard.
- “He Gives Us All His Love,” Randy Newman — I’m not sure whether Randy meant for this song to be satirical or not, but whenever I listen to it, I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter. Songs always mean different things to different people. It’s all about interpretation.
- “Dust My Broom,” Elmore James — This song just makes me feel cool.
- “I Keep a Close Watch,” John Cale — It was a toss up between this and his version of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel,” but this song is just so much sadder. I’m a sucker for the tear-jerkers.
- “Corrine, Corrina,” Big Joe Turner — This song has been recorded by so many artists so many times. I first heard Bob Dylan’s version when I was 11, and fell in love with it, but I think Big Joe does it the best.
- “Don’t Think It Ain’t Been Fun, Dear (Cuz It Ain’t),” Lefty Frizzell — This is one of the smartest songs I’ve ever heard.
- “Keep on the Sunny Side,” The Carter Family — No one can sings songs like this anymore.
- “New Orleans Fucntion,” Louis Armstrong — Have you ever heard this song!!!!!!?
- “Temptation,” Tom Waits (This song was chosen by my guitarist, Rich Russano) — The title says it all.
- “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” Bessie Smith — Another song covered by so many artists. I can’t really relate to the particulars of what Bessie’s singing about here, but whenever I hear her sing it, I feel like I can.
The sets are typically between one and one and a half hours, depending on the venue. The songs and their order change nightly, to change up feel between the musicians and our audience. Last night we played:
Ballad of a Priest
Blue and Green
Thing to Thing
Get 'em While They're Hot
To Feel your Love
Death of a Widow
Who are You?
The World ain't a Friend of Mine
These Dreams of You
There are no upcoming dates at this time.