Mark Erelli’s newest release, Blindsided, says just as much about who he is as it does about where he’s been. The secrets are embedded in the restraint of the 11-song set, a collection efficient yet varied, emotional yet exact. It’s the sort of record that only a veteran artist could make — the finishes and flourishes of an expert craftsman who knows how to properly and painfully edit, perhaps the most agonizing part of the creative process.
Erelli comes by these skills honestly, a singer-songwriter who made his Signature Sounds debut over 20 years ago. In the last two decades, he’s produced Lori McKenna; played in bands with Josh Ritter, Marc Cohn, and Paula Cole; and released several albums of his own. These experiences allow Erelli to introduce varied flavors into one compelling and cohesive package.
All throughout Blindsided are bits and pieces of Petty and Prine, but there’s also a bit of Joe Cocker here and The Damnwells there. The title track, with its barroom piano and Erelli’s vocal muscle, is an instant hit to lead off the album, a track that feels familiar and fresh all at once. The rousing energy of “I Can’t Stand Myself” should be at odds with the rest of Blindsided, but instead it works beautifully next to “Her Town Now” and “A Little Kindness,” the latter of which sounds like an Alex Dezen outtake.
“Stranger’s Eyes” stirs the soulful side of Erelli’s musical interests while he sings harrowing lines like, “I worry ’bout our prognosis / You don’t even notice / we’re barely holdin’ on.” “The Western Veil,” co-written with Luther Child, is the album’s most stunning track and recalls the best work of Trent Dabbs. The string arrangements present on much of the album buoys a few tracks, such as the lovely piano-centric closing number, “Careless.”
Blindsided is a bit of Americana alchemy, a concoction that can only be served up by someone who knows the rules inside and out — enough to break them when needed.