Wed, May 30, 2012.
Dennis Ellsworth has a long history with groups out of PEI, having served as frontman for several over the years, including Rude Mechanicals, Battery Point, and most recently, Haunted Hearts. It's with Haunted Hearts that he's enjoyed the most success, and since 2008 that group has, and continues to be a strong force. Their alt-country sounds has moved Ellsworth away from his indie-band roots from those earlier bands.
At the same time, apart from the Hearts, he's been developing a parallel solo career, and that's just fine with the rest of the group, part of the deal really. He's had two previous discs, and now launches what promises to be his biggest so far, called Dusk Dreams. He brought in a sought-after producer, recorded down in Athens, Georgia, with a guy who's worked with that band from there, R.E.M. Plus, he's just signed a record deal with Busted Flat, the same bunch that have been putting out Matt Andersen discs. The album is called Dusk Dreams, and has Ellsworth in full and strong singer-songwriter mode. And just to show there's no hard feelings about Ellsworth stepping out of the group, Haunted Hearts play on this, too.
What differentiates this album from his band work is that Ellsworth wrote more personal, reflective tunes, and some very strong ballads that do seem like ones you want to claim as your own. I don't mean he doesn't want to share the credit; It's more a statement of what he is as a songwriter and person, as opposed to what he is as a collaborator. Balancing a solo career and a band one is very tricky, rife with internal politics and bruised egos. These are artists, after all. But sometimes these things aren't calculated for business reasons, and I think Ellsworth just needs to direct the whole project sometimes, and have it come out his way, rather than make an elbum by committee.
The Dennis Ellsworth that has emerged from playing in the Haunted Hearts is strong, sensitive roots-country singer. He has what I think is a gorgeous voice, because I can't think of another word to describe it. You can hear, especially on the ballads, that ability to sing tenderly that reminds me of Burton Cummings, with a little less volume and more subtlety. His smooth melodies are perfect to wrap that voice around. The music has a bit of country flowing through each song, and is helped along with pedal steel and the like, but it also edges into the old-school pop sound, and has a lot more authenticity than most modern country. I like all the keyboards going through the songs, where electric piano and such becomes the main foil to his singing, while electric guitar and pedal steel provide the solos and colour.
He's handy with the words, too. Good metaphors abound, and like a good Island boy, he brings on the ocean in several places. My favourite is a cut called Perfect Storm, where, like, oh Shakespeare and a few others after, he creates a tempest on the water, but it's really about a love affair, and as he sings, "What is love if not the Perfect Storm?" There's another good image in the first single from the disc, called Electric Stars, about being away, and looking at the sky, and knowing the one you're missing is staring at those same stars, and finding a connection there.
You can catch Ellsworth this week in New Brunswick, as part of his cross-country album launch tour. He's at Sunbury Shores in St Andrews, on Friday, June 1st, at Wilser's in Fredericton on Saturday the second, and at Plan B in Moncton for a 4 PM matinee on Sunday.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).