I find I am drawn to art that evokes a sense of place. Whether it be Bruce Springsteen’s hard luck America, Dickens’ seedy London, or Gaugin’s lively Marquesas Islands paintings, a sense of where the work was born from, what brought it about and shaped it in the first place is very important to me. For time and place are instruments that work on an artist, just as an artist works with them to produce a final piece of work.
For singer songwriter Raman Ellis this sense of place is Oregon, particularly the North Umpqua rainforest up until he was twelve and he moved to the town of Sisters, Oregon where he met many like-minded musicians, an event that would spark his taste for all things Americana. For the following decade Ellis wrote and performed songs with his bandmates Benji Nagel and Brent Alan. The result of this decade’s worth of practice and writing has resulted in Ellis’s debut indie-folk soaked debut The Tides.
The Tides opens with the powerful folk ballad “My Way.” Ellis and his bandmates waste no time in creating a powerful atmosphere. Though “My Way” starts off with the typical folksy finger-picked banjo notes and Ellis’s dusky vocals, it soon builds up into swells of stringed instruments like swirling violins and deep, hard-edged chops of cello. Next up on “The Fool” Ellis and co. play it cool and folksy and then half-way through take on a bluesy and honky-tonk twang with spot on vocal harmonies.
Fan of country or music or not, it’s hard not to be impressed. Things take an upbeat turninto Ryan Adams alt-country country on the catchy “Sweet Life.” The sweet and sad elements of Adams’s country continue later on the bright and gently rocking “We Are the Light” on which the ancient mandolin and harmonica come together as though they were meant to be.
There is so much power in so many of these songs but one feels it most deeply on the slow and straight country crooners, most notably “Hope I don’t Today” and the soft and sweet “She Rides” with their integrated multi-part vocal harmonies that are so painstakingly hewn.
Many things can be taught and learned to a degree that they become mechanical. This is helpful in many facets of working life though not in art. In art the best things are inherent; they come from somewhere deep inside the person, born of thoughts and feelings unique to that person. Raman Ellis has tapped into his own reservoir of grief, loss and pain, and with The Tides has given the world something beautiful.
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