Posts Tagged ‘James Elkington’

Though its title is taken from the Old English term for “the sound of winter,” much of James Elkington’s solo debut bears a distinctly autumnal vibe. With a feel that harks back to the British singer/songwriters of the early ’70s, Wintres Woma ultimately seems to capture the slow seasonal slide from fall’s gentle unbuttoning into an icier, more frigid landscape.

Elkington hails from the U.K. but makes his home in Chicago, where they know a thing or two about winter. He has a varied history that includes fronting indie rockers The Zincs and co-leading art-folk outfit The Horse’s Ha with Freakwater’s Janet Beveridge Bean. But over the past couple of years before beginning work on “Wintres Woma”, he had been working primarily as an accompanist, playing guitar and other instruments with British folk-rock legends like Richard Thompson and Michael Chapman, as well as Steve Gunn, Jeff Tweedy, and others.

Elkington’s first solo statement was cut in just five days at Wilco’s sonic headquarters, The Loft in Chicago. It seems to key in on the sensibility of artists like Thompson, Chapman, and their peers, who blurred the lines between folk, rock, and jazz in the ’70s with their nimble guitar work, and combined it with a poetic lyrical bent. The delicate-but-precise acoustic guitar patterns at the core of Wintres Woma sometimes feel like descendents of Nick Drake complex finger-picking latticework, especially when Elkington’s lines are countered by Nick Macri’s fluid stand-up bass on the speedy “Make It Up.”

The only track not written by Elkington, an instrumental take on the traditional Scottish folk song “The Parting Glass,” is so adventurously re-harmonized that it scarcely resembles its source, bringing to mind the trailblazing 1960s acoustic explorations of British guitarist Davey Graham. And the combination of Elkington’s sonorous baritone and virtuosic fretboard forays makes a strong case for him as the spiritual heir to the late U.K. folk legend Bert Jansch.

But for all of Wintres Woma’s links to a scene that was approaching its peak when Elkington was a zygote, the dominant artistic voice here is an unflinchingly singular one. The lyrics, in particular, travel a path that seems entirely their own, with imagery unusual enough to force your synapses into new configurations, and a bittersweetness palpable enough to take you by the tear ducts and squeeze.

“In the drug harbor, friends became verbs, chanting in squares the where and the why,” he sings in “When I Am Slow” atop a folkish guitar melody that could be either minutes or hundreds of years old. “Shut that accordion mouth and stop crying fat wedding-band tears,” he admonishes the subject of “The Hermit Census.” And it’s tough to imagine anyone else managing to slip a line like “entrails were made into garlands to welcome my reign” into a ballad as warmly homey-sounding as the crepuscular, harmonica-laced “Sister of Mine.”

The arrangements on the self-produced album are spare (if not stark) from start to finish, and mostly played by Elkington himself, with occasional assists on violin, viola, percussion, and the aforementioned bass and cello. With Elkington’s intimate, plum wine vocals and tactile guitar work at the core throughout, each track feels like a stylishly scrawled diary entry we’ve somehow wrangled the permission to read.

But whether Elkington is whistling through the graveyard on the ironically perky-sounding “Grief Is Not Coming,” recounting the surreal dream state of “Greatness Yet to Come,” or navigating his way through the nightmarish visions of “Hollow in Your House,” his combination of timeless folk flavorings and an artful modernity blend into a wistful but never forlorn kind melancholy. It’s the kind that steps far enough back from the shifting of the seasons of life to know that the whole thing is just a dream to be played out, a dance to follow through, on the way to becoming one with the true sound of winter.

Chicago songwriter and guitarist James Elkington—who has collaborated with everyone from Richard Thompson to Jeff Tweedy to Tortoise—has announced his new album, “Ever-Roving Eye”, out April 3rd, alongside the video for lead single “Nowhere Time” and UK tour dates with Joan Shelley. He recorded his sophomore album at Wilco’s Loft Studio, expanding upon his “beautiful, complex, and assured” (Pitchfork) 2017 debut Wintres Woma, as well as his recent production and arrangement work for the likes of Steve GunnNap Eyes (he produced their upcoming Snapshot of a Beginner), and Joan Shelley.

Casting glances back to British folk traditions as well as toward avant-garde horizons, these brilliant new songs, as accessible as they are arcane, buttress Elkington’s brisk guitar figures and baritone poesy with strings, woodwinds, and backing vocals by Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station.

Ever-Roving Eye is even more elaborate, shrewd, thoughtful, and confessional than its predecessor. Though it sounds like a line culled from a murderous Child ballad, the title has everything to do instead with the slipperiness of satisfaction, and the equal parts virtue and vice that is being your own mule and driver. The album’s lead single/video, “Nowhere Time,” is a call to take up arms against procrastination, and features some of Elkington’s most daring guitar-wrangling. “A more cosmic acquaintance of mine once told me that when your life is going in the direction you want it to, it’s the universe’s way of telling you that you are in the place you’re meant to be,” Elkington says. “Does that sound likely? Not at all, but the song asks the question anyway…” The track’s accompanying video, directed by Tim Harris, features James, Spencer Tweedy on drums, and Nick Macri on upright bass.

James Elkington’s “Ever-Roving Eye” is out April 3, 2020 on Paradise of Bachelors.

Itasca announces her sublime new album “Spring”, written in a century-old adobe house in New Mexico. Feat. Chris Cohen, James Elkington, & members of Bitchin’ Bajas & Sun Araw, it contains her most quietly dazzling songs to date. Hear “Bess’s Dance” below, Itasca, is the mesmeric project of California songwriter Kayla Cohen, she has announced her new album Spring, due out November 1st. “Bess’s Dance,” describing it as “a beguiling rumination. Kayla Cohen’s got a voice that glows like the sun at dusk, and plays acoustic guitar with a nimble yet intricate touch.”

Cohen wrote the anticipated follow-up to her acclaimed 2016 album Open to Chance in a century-old adobe house in rural New Mexico. Inspired by the landscape and history of the region, the sublime Spring—its title summoning both season and scarce local water sources—dowses a devotional path to high desert headwaters.  James Elkington adds cinematic string arrangement graces “Bess’s Dance”, and members of Gun Outfit and Sun Araw.


“Spring” contains Cohen’s most quietly dazzling and self-assured set of songs to date.

Featuring contributions from Chris Cohen, Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas), James Elkington, and members of Gun Outfit and Sun Araw.

Living in the river town Louisville, Kentucky, where the Ohio River is at its widest, must be impactful for Joan Shelley, as both this album and her last, 2018 EP Rivers and Vessels, include the word “river.” This time the river led her to Iceland, where she recorded yet another exquisite collection of songs that pairs the purest voice since Joan Baez with an exploration of uncertain currents. Over the past few years, and seven albums, Shelley, along with longtime guitarist Nathan Salsburg, has quietly created a genre unto herself.

In her album announcement she said that her songs invoke a “conversation with the divine that has seen all of it. … They are also a longing cry born of all the dividing; a call across the slowly spreading ocean. Primarily, [the album] is a haven for overstimulated heads in uncertain times.” To say that she and Salsburg put you in a trance is an oversimplification, but you do get lost and want to linger in a world so slip-shaped that only heaven seems to know. Thus, I cannot pick any single song to highlight, but if you are taken with “Cycle,” a Nick Drake-Sandy Denny-like floater, you’ll be as smitten as I am.

“LIKE THE RIVER LOVES THE SEA”, the new record, is coming out in just over 2 weeks.  I can’t wait to rip off the seal and let you all into it. Two songs are out now, as singles for the record:
Click to listen to Coming Down for You featuring Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, and James Elkington-and Cycle featuring Nathan and James as well as the Icelandic sisters, string dream-team Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir and Þórdís Gerður Jónsdóttir. Music video animated by Douglas Miller.

From “Like The River Loves The Sea” out August 30th, 2019

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Joan Shelley recorded “Coming Down For You” in Iceland. Despite this venture away from her native Kentucky, her love of banjo, guitar and bass still ripples, swirls and flows around Shelley’s voice like a river over well-worn stones. “Coming Down For You” is out now on No Quarter Records.

The Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley makes lovely, warm acoustic folk music. Last year, she released the covers EP “Rivers & Vessels”, taking on songs by people like Nick Drake and Dolly Parton. A few months ago, she shared covers of Frank Sinatra’s “I Would Be In Love (Anyway)” and Kate Wolf’s “Here in California.” And now, she’s back with some more new music of her own.

“Coming Down For You,” her first original song in over two years. She travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland to record it with a whole host of kindred spirits from the folk music scene — Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, and James Elkington — and its cover art features a photograph of her mother.

The song “came to me while I was in motion and I couldn’t write it down,” Shelley says. “I was thinking of the rhythm of animals, of work, and of travel; the rhythm of someone riding into chaos to bring a loved one back out again.”