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Posted by curtiseller on Monday, June 23, 2008

Wirewalkers And Assassins

It's not often that a press release makes one laugh out loud, but Curtis Eller's is an object lesson in how to engage the reviewer and make her/him favourably disposed even before hearing the album. And there was no disappointment, as the album carries all the wit and quirky originality of the PR: the two quotes on the CD sleeve are from wirewalker Karl Wallenda (of the Flying Wallendas, dummy) and assassin John Wilkes Booth, and it is the latter who haunts the songs in one guise or another.

John Wilkes Booth (Don't Make Us Beg) is a heartfelt - and somewhat outrageous - plea for one way to solve the problem of the current President of the USA, while The Curse of Cain examines Booth's mind after the event in Ford's Theater in 1865, sympathetically.

To make comparisons as a way of getting into the album, Eller's lyrics are reminiscent of the likes of Tom Waits with a detailed knowledge of forgotten and half-remembered parts of American, and particularly New York's, history: he doesn't burn up like the 'forest fire' of cliché, but like a 'Sweatshop Fire' ­ the unspoken reference is to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire of 1911. The plea of the man bound for execution, Save Me, Joe Louis is supposed to have been a real cry from a black convict in the 1940sŠ and so on. The legendary corrupt Tammany Hall leader, Boss Tweed, rubs shoulders with Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, until the whole thing takes on the hallucinatory quality of Luc Sante's evocation of New York, Low Life.

But if it were just a clever reworking of history, the album would be dry as dust, if unusual; that it isn't is due to Eller's clever mixing in of more straightforward (sic) tracks: Plea Of The Aerialist's Wife adds a plaintive touch, as against the tale of the Hartford Circus Fire, 1944, which may or may not have taken place, and Daisy Josephine is a lovely lullaby/balled as befitting his subject matter. Ellers holds the music together with parlour-style banjo picking, framed by upright bass and drums, with delicate touches of backing vocals, organ, squeezebox and steel guitar. It's all very light and attractive, with a lot of waltz time in there, and is a bit of a left-field classic that is already one of my albums of the year.

London, UK

2 comments on “fROOTS MAGAZINE CD Review!”

Bongshang Says:
Monday, June 23, 2008 @1:52:02 PM

Well done Curtis. That's an excellent review. fROOTS is definitely the magazine to be reviewed in.

Hunter Robertson Says:
Monday, June 23, 2008 @2:48:23 PM

Way to go Curtis! Hunter

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