CD Review – Chad Elliott “So Sang The Crow”
Chad Elliott’s newest release, So “Sang The Crow” tells a lyrical and musical story that is equal parts Walt Whitman, James Taylor and the Kevin Costner character, Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams”. It’s a must listen for all Iowans and Americana/Roots music lovers.
Chad is an accomplished visual artist sculptor and his stylized painting of a stormy moonscape adorns the cover of “So Sang the Crow”. I have some of his paintings in my house and his art and music have the evocative tones, festive oranges and yellows, with something dark and brooding barely bubbling underneath.
Unlike his previous release “Redemption Man”, produced by Iowa icon, Bo Ramsey, this collection of songs produced by Chris Cunningham of the band Storyhill, offers a multi-instrumental palette of accordion, dulcimer, piano, mandolin, fiddle and some sweet harmonies from Bonita Crowe. Despite the embellishments, the arrangements are still tasteful and sparse enough to allow the vocal and guitar talents of Chad Elliott to shine through.
The lyricism is solid and roughly thematic, with an emphasis on self-determination and a woven landscape tapestry of broad scenic vistas and front porch reflections, conveying not so much a sense of place, but of a sense of places and wonderment at natural beauty.
Songs like “Drawing Board” and “Burning Bridges” are self deprecating lessons on simple, honest living, and golden rule philosophies, without being preachy. They come across as genuine and humble. In some ways, they carry forward similar, albeit less parochial, themes set forth in Elliott’s “Redemption Man” release.
The pump organ on the album is fitting as several of the songs, like “Blue Bonnets “and “Ghosts On The Prairie”, add a modern folk flavor that harkens to simpler times when a leather hymnal and a church choir replaced the radio and pressed flowers between the pages held precious memories.
The songs “So Sang The Crow” and “Oak Tree Grave” will be a treat for listeners who enjoy the dark violin tones and dramatic styling of contemporary acoustic/folk/bluegrass bands like Nickel Creek. The haunting resonator guitar and dark vocals call up ominous imagery reminiscent of Kelly Joe Phelps.
“Great High Plains” is my favorite on the record, with its lilting bluegrass feel and rollicking retrospective country lyrics about old cars and girls with wrist corsages. I was raised in rural Iowa, and I can relate to the references to riding shotgun and taking dirt roads to avoid attention.
Chad is often compared to famous Iowa songwriter-cum-poet Greg Brown but the comparison sells them both short. They are both Iowa voices to be treasured, but as different as they are similar. Theirs are not so much unique stories, but songs from unique storytellers, both to be treasured for their Iowa perspectives
With “roots” music banjos and long bushy bearded hipsters en vogue these days, Chad Elliott stands out as a timeless and genuine musical poet with supple-strong roots like the bluestem and buffalo grass Iowa prairie.
Todd Partridge, March 8, 2013
Todd Partridge has been active in the Iowa music community for over 25 years, performing original music with several Iowa Rock/Blues/Roots music groups and recording music at Old School Studios – a recording studio set up in an 90 year old, 3-story brick school building. Currently, he is finishing a new album with his band King Of The Tramps.