23 February 2007

Elvis Perkins / Ash Wednesday / XL Recordings [2007]

4.5 Stars
Choice cuts: While You Were Sleeping, Sleep Sandwich, Ash Wednesday

Elvis Perkins plays traditional folk music with supplemental flourishes, lyrically and musically, that will not allow his heartbreaking ballads to be buried in the singer-songwriter stockpile. Premature comparisons to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen supply lofty expectations for a debut album but Ash Wednesday's unfaltering authenticity allows Perkins to hold a candle the greats of yesterday.

Perkins' backing band, Dearland, provides expertly restrained additions in the form of sublime strings, delicate background vocals, and thick double-bass. However, it is Perkins' versatile voice through which homage is paid to folk-influences, and his keen ear for catchy melody around which the album revolves, anchored by heartbreaking and instinctive lyrics. Like a Jeff Buckley reincarnate, Perkins floods Ash Wednesday with sorrowful laments without sacrificing composure.

At its most cheery, gang vocals in "May Day!" or the Highway 61-shuffle of "All the Night Without Love" provide bouncy backdrops to melancholy lyrics. The remaining songs pair instrumental and thematic sorrow to create an album-long catharsis. Inspired by unimaginable tragedy (Perkins lost his father to AIDS and mother in the attacks of 9/11), Wednesday is candid in its words: "No one will survive Ash Wednesday alive/No soldier, no lover, no father, no mother."

Moments of abstract lyricism and vocal delivery recall Neutral Milk Hotel but it is moments of directness, like the flawless simplicity of The O.C.-approved "While You Were Sleeping", that make Ash Wednesday timeless as Perkins sings of family, tragedy and loss . Sticking to what he knows, Perkins shapes everything familiar about folk, from Dylan to Buckley and Mangum, into a fresh composite, so that when he promises, "Everyone will know who I am," you're inclined to believe him.

- Joseph Coscarelli

Here it is online at WSN.

1 comment:

David Byron said...

i like elvis perkins a lot, good review.