The Ditchflowers
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The Ditchflowers

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If you've ever thought of local rock artists as akin to a JV team, The Ditchflowers should disabuse you of that notion in short order. Carried Away is a first-class pop-rock record by any standard, one that deserves a wider audience than the small cult of local-music enthusiasts.

Fans of melodic guitar-pop in the mold of such benchmarks as The Beatles, Kinks, Bowie, Todd Rundgren, XTC et al should make an immediate and concerted effort to obtain, or at least sample, this album.

After reading the rest of this review, of course.

The band's creative core consists of veteran artists Brian Merrill and Ed Woltil, two of the Bay area's preeminent popsmiths whose talents so complement each other that Carried Away may well be the best work either has done.

Woltil, at best an occasional presence on local stages, penned 10 of the songs, with Merrill cowriting the other two. Like mid- and late-period Beatles albums, Carried Away cuts a fairly broad stylistic swath. While guitar-driven power-pop might be the touchstone here, the duo stretches into the loping country-blues of "Walkin' Back" and the sweet, timeless pop of "Boys" and "Aunt Marie," which conjure the spirit of "When I'm Sixty-Four."

Carried Away is also an intelligent album. Woltil deals with issues of aging, family life, spiritual struggles and adult identity with a kind of casual erudition that's not meant to impress but communicate real feelings.

On the hushed bridge to the exquisite jangle-pop opener "My Next Life," co-writer Merrill sings, "Just sitting calculating up the price I pay for/ Watching my tomorrows fade to yesterdays" -- but ultimately the tune is about renewal. On the yearning ballad "My New Skin," the disc's most affecting track, Woltil muses, "Christian liberal, 2.3 kids/ Alter ego on the skids," and goes on to probe the meaning and doubt involved in being a thinking Christian in a raw world.

Although Woltil did most of the writing, he and Merrill split lead vocal chores, complementing each other beautifully. They're essentially bookends, although Merrill sings with a kind of flowing ease while Woltil brings a bit more strain and intensity. As you might expect, their background harmonies are sublime -- and often quite ornate, as in the tricky, stacked vocals on "Home Away From Home."

That song includes another welcome element: an old-timey piano solo that adds a blush of added exhilaration. The album -- coproduced by Merrill and Woltil, and recorded at Merrill's home studio in St. Pete -- brims with these little sonic flourishes: slinky organ beds, a bit of electric piano, the wheeze of a bass harmonica, never as showy devices, but as a means to better serve the song.

I could write a lot more, but now's the time for you to check out The Ditchflowers for yourself. Go to http://ditchflowers.com/ 4 stars --Eric Snider - Creative Loafing, February 7 2007


"The Ditchflowers’ brand of melody-driven folk-pop will seduce your ears with tight harmonies—they’re a Ditch you’ll want to dig."
-Mare Wakefield, Performing Songwriter Top 12 DIY Pick review, October 2007 - Perfrorming Songwriter magazine


by Quentin B. Huff, April 13 2007:

First, let’s get the negatives out of the way. I like the Ditchflowers, but I don’t like the Tampa, Florida, band’s album title, Carried Away, and I really, really don’t like the album cover. What’s the deal with the rosy-cheeked little kid and the concerned-looking rabbit playing dress up with a skeleton? Looks like they’re floating (or, uh, getting “carried away") along a river or lake. Are they riding in a cracked eggshell? And is that a dancing angel on the back cover? But none of it matters, not the rabbit or the freaky kid or their boat on the half shell. What matters is that the Ditchflowers crank out darn fine music, and, more specifically, the fact that Carried Away‘s 12 compositions are action packed with melody and lush instrumentation. Helmed by Ed Woltil (who also led the Tampa band Mad for Electra) and Brian Merrill (formerly at the head of Barely Pink), who trade lead vocals, and with Woltil as primary songwriter, the Ditchflowers strum, swoon, swing, and sway themselves into a prime spot in your music collection.

Every song exhibits supreme musicianship and an insightful yet earthy lyricism—and that includes the few songs I don’t care much for, like the pleading “Sweet Mercy & Understanding” and the maudlin “Aunt Marie”. But when you get right down to it, the highs are delightful, from the sublime pop opener “My Next Life”, to the twangy “Since I Met You”, and “Boys”, a brilliant ode for every dude who ever had a road dawg. “Boys” was also a Folk category finalist in 2006’s John Lennon Songwriting Competition. Another high point is “Walkin’ Back”, which reminds me of a cross between the King of Queens sitcom theme (in terms of subject) and the theme from the Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest (in terms of melody and tempo). And you gotta love “Kind Kind Kind”, a tragically funny tune about falling for women who are the opposite of the song’s title, especially with lines like, “I don’t remember when she moved herself in / Or took up the hobby of throwing things at me”, “Maybe I deserve these lumps on my head”, and “If this was 15th century England, you could just cut me / And leave me sittin’ here to bleed”. I could envision “Kind Kind Kind” as a response to Fleming & John’s hilariously catty “Ugly Girl”. Now…what was I saying about the album title and the cover? Never mind. It’s easy to forget the small stuff when the songs are so grand. - PopMatters.com


For an unknown band, the folks in Largo, Florida's Ditchflowers have a remarkably slick, professional, and commercial sound. You won't find any noisy experiments here or any artists indulging in mindless creativity. Carried Away is an exercise in pure accessible pop. That might be a bad thing...were it not for the effective songwriting skills of bandleader Ed Woltil. Ed's style reminds us of a great many artists, but immediate similarities to Neil Innes and Neil Finn come to mind first. What may scare some underground fans away from this CD is the fact that the overall sound is very similar to albums released by major labels...lots of overdubs, precise and articulate mixes, etc. True, this is in many ways a bit more slick than necessary, but songs are what count...and songs are what make Ditchflowers stand out from the pack. Super catchy mid-tempo upbeat tracks include "My Next Life," "All the Time in the World," "New Skin" (our favorite), and "Spend My Life." Truly memorable stuff. (Rating: 5) - babysue.com


Tampa-based Ditchflowers have mixed sharp melodies, thoughtful lyrics and wonderful production into a pleasing package titled Carried Away. Ed Woltil and Brian Merrill head up this talented cast of musicians who offer songs of longing, faith and getting older into tuneful tales of intrigue. The Ditchflowers have excelled here, merging sophisticated pop not unlike Steely Dan and XTC with the straight-ahead rock of artists like The Smithereens and The Kinks. The songs "Home Away From Home" and "All The Time In The World" feature pretty pop that fit in seamlessly with country-flavored tracks like "Since I Met You" and "Walkin' Back".

Featured Tracks: "All The Time In The World", "Since I Met You" - whitsbrain.com


“A masterful collection of songs that blend grabby powerpop, singer/songwriter fare and just enough quirky touches to dodge genre constrictions…Woltil and Merrill exude
terrific chemistry throughout.”—Eric Snider - Creative Loafing - Tampa


“You’d have to return to the best of Elvis Costello, Squeeze and XTC to find pop this intelligent, well-crafted and ear-caressingly fine.”—Curtis Ross - Tampa Tribune


Discography

Carried Away (12-song CD)

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Bio

Although The Ditchflowers’ main songsmith, Ed Woltil, recently earned the distinction of being a Top Four Finalist in the Folk category of the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the band’s new CD, Carried Away, spills beyond folk into powerpop, roots-pop and artful singer-songwriter mini-epics—all adding up to make it a sonic Whitman’s Sampler of tuneful confections. Early response to the new disc is strong: in a four-star review, Creative Loafing calls it “exquisite…sweet, timeless pop” going on to recommend that “fans of melodic guitar-pop in the mold of such benchmarks as The Beatles, Kinks, Bowie, Todd Rundgren, XTC et al should make an immediate and concerted effort to obtain…this album.” NotLame.com has gone so far as to single out Carried Away as “one of the best releases you’ll hear in 2007.”
Led by Woltil and partner Brian Merrill, the Tampa-based Ditchflowers combine melodic sophistication with a power pop punch to showcase rare emotional and stylistic versatility. Former frontman of Big Deal recording artists Barely Pink, Merrill fuses craft and showmanship with thick, chewy, pop-rock goodness. Tough yet tuneful, The Pink were the go-to band for high-profile opening slots for the likes of Cheap Trick and The Smithereens. Merrill’s music has been featured in broadcasts by such diverse outlets as the XGames on ESPN, the Disney Channel and the Tokyo Broadcasting System.
On his end, award-winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Woltil channels inspired melodicism and riveting musicianship. Whether leading Tampa Bay power pop savants, Mad For Electra, or playing rhythm guitar with Florida’s legendary Headlights (Roger McGuinn’s one-time backing band), Woltil has charmed audiences and critics alike. Solo or with MFE, Woltil has opened shows for Richard Thompson, Marshall Crenshaw, Alex Chilton, Chris Isaak and Procol Harum. He has also appeared as a guest performer/co-instructor for the National Guitar Summer Workshop.
Pop Carried Away in and hear for yourself. Try “Home Away From Home” (Track 2), a mood-shifting funhouse of tuneful hooks and existential angst; “Boys” (Track 8), a sweetly elegaic, McCartney-esque ode to the joys and trials of a lifelong friendship; “My Next Life” (Track 1), the album’s “exquisite jangle-pop opener” (Creative Loafing); or bask in the sweeping cinematic glow of “Spend My Life” (Track 12). Wherever you ‘drop the needle,’ on the new Ditchflowers CD, you’ll find yourself ‘carried away.’