Our Man in The Field
THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS
Pearlescent Lo-Fi Folk With an Added Americana Spark.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of this remarkable debut album when I first received it a month or so ago. Perhaps I wasn’t really in the mood for Alexander Ellis’ pearlescent lo-fi; although I should have been; because I was in a really flat and dark mood …… but I had my regular ‘go to’ albums for such occasions.
But now the ‘black clouds’ have disappeared and I can now recognise the strength and wisdom in these enchanting songs and tales.
Sounding battered and bruised, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and Henry Senior Jr’s sublime pedal-steel guitar, on opening song Thin (I Used to Be Bullet Proof) our man somehow manages to see the light at the end of the tunnel; albeit after a long and troubled journey.
That song certainly sets the mood for what is to follow; windswept Folk songs that transcend normal boundaries; slipping and sliding between the common or garden English variety, that we associate with John Martyn and Nick Drake (Easy Going Smile and Pockets, spring to mind) via the intensity that some of our RMHQ Favourites Stephen Fearing and Lake Poets have brought us in recent years; It Is What It Is and Don’t Speak are prime examples of the beautiful intensity they can all bring to our world; speaking what we often feel but can’t actually articulate.
The ever so simple production and arrangements (it was all recorded ‘as live’ in the studio) masks some amazing lyrics and heartbreaking stories.
Several songs actually sent a shiver down my spine when I first played this album; wow …… how deep, yet accessible is Swansong (Don’t Play With Matches)?
Listen carefully and somewhere beyond Ellis’s hypnotic voice and you will hear some mighty fine guitar and pedal-steel that will blow your mind (I was listening on headphones yesterday …. WOW!).
For a young man, taking his first steps in the wacky world of Rock & Roll Alexander Ellis is a very mature songwriter in not just words, but deeds too; as the finale I Like You So I Will Kill You Last proves.
Starting with some extraordinary and ornery harmonica it builds and builds as the guitar, bass and drums arrive as if uninvited guests, before Ellis eventually pours his heart out as if in a confessional.
While possibly the cleverest and possibly most interesting song on the album, it’s not even my Favourite Song though; as two others completely took me unawares and even today; to paraphrase Norman Gimbel’s Killing Me Softly With His Song: Ellis feels to me like he’s:
“Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words.”
When he sings the sorrowful and expressive It Is What It Is and more especially, It Was Ever So; which probably wins the accolade as it really, really does sound like he has lived a life of heartbreak and knows the only way out is to put it all in a song.
There’s not a lot more I can tell you about Alexander Ellis as he seems to enjoy hiding behind his Our Man in The Field, pseudonym, which is fine …….. because his songs certainly do the talking for him.