With Edison Lights and Polaroid Sights, We Examine The Civilized Man.
By: Selah Dalacos and Kayne Lanahan in Savannah, GA.
Something’s up in Nashville. The capital of Country Music is quietly becoming a hot bed of rising indie rock, pop, and garage bands. The ‘other’ Nashville if you will. East Nashville to be exact. In the past few years we’ve seen great bands like Jeff The Brotherhood, PUJOL, Turbo Fruits and Natural Child shred the notion of country Nashville and help re-define and shine a light on the city’s underground scene (the 2009 opening of Jack White’s new studio for Third Man Records on the east side of town was a driving force in this movement). Coming right on their heels is the next wave of bands- a little less gritty but no less talented. Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes is one of our favorites.
Ellsworth and company are on a self-proclaimed mission to make sure we all ‘slow down and smell the roses’, to take just a few minutes to hide from the modern world. They’re proper debut album Civilized Man subtly speaks to this notion in myriad ways (see “Edison Light” and “Take Your Time”) and the band has even taken the whole concept on the road, teaming up with the über cool Impossible Project to document their entire tour on vintage Polaroid Film.
“Instant film is a unique piece of art. It’s not a negative or one of an infinite number of prints, it’s a (nearly) instant tangible picture of that moment frozen in time.” – the Impossible Project
We love the concept and the music so much, we decided to dig deeper:
Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes were formed in 2009 in Nashville although the members all originally hail from the Midwest. Daniel Ellsworth, who is originally from Minnesota, made the cross over from singer-songwriter to band ring leader after three years on the solo circuit. Ellsworth even had a stint on Season 3 of NBC’s ‘The Sing-Off’ in which he made it to the 6th episode with the a capella group, The Collective. The remainder of the Great Lakes consists of Joel Wren on drums, originally from Kansas, Marshall Skinner on bass and Timon Lance on guitar, both of whom are from Ohio.
In 2010, the band ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund their sophomore album Civilized Man and the album was recorded in early 2011 and released in May. Civilized Man was self-produced at Beech House Studios in Nashville~~engineered and recorded by Mark Nevers (Andrew Bird, Yo La Tengo, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy). The album has drawn comparisons to Dr. Dog, M. Ward, J Roddy Walston and Band of Horses but have a listen for yourself, we think it stands on its own!
The great thing about this record is that it touches on just about every genre that really speaks to us here at The MusicFile. Yes, you can hear the influence of Tennessee twang, but I promise you, there’s so much more happening here! The album bends to the likes of rock, blues, country, pop and even (dare I say) a little bit of soul. At times it is high energy, jangly rockabilly, then it’s upbeat and shimmery piano pop, then it brings in tight folk-tinged harmonies that blend into an indie rock song. It’s all over the map in the best possible way.
Here’s the SOUNDCLOUD link to their entire album….and some hints from Selah on what to expect:
- The most infectious, ‘radio-friendly’ hit off this album is “Shoe Fits” (it was #7 on Amazon’s Best Of 2011 List). It’s a super catchy pop song with some really fun piano happenings throughout. At first listen to all those toe-tappin piano riffs, I thought surely this would be my favorite song of theirs, but then I listened on… although there is a guilty pleasure pop princess tucked down deep inside me, she’s not the one who this album really spoke to.
- “Only One for Me” is one of my favorites because it’s a bluesy ballad that eludes sexiness. That’s right, I said sexy. Daniel Ellsworth’s voice is like a flickering candle on a bedside table that brightens and then lulls softly. The blend here of piano and drums almost lead you into a slow dance, but the guitar is what really brings it home.
- And when that one ends, you’re thrown into the back of a saloon with the stylings of “Take Your Time” which opens with the rattling of Daniel Ellsworth on the piano and swells with grittiness and that Southern rock swagger.
- “Edison Light” makes me want to roll the windows down in my car and take a drive with a lover. It has a sound like Bahamas (I’m referencing the band, but it would also translate well to the destination). It sounds so light and breezy it makes me nostalgic for the wind blowing in my hair. However, there’s a guitar break down mid song that really snaps you back to the rockin’ real world. The lyrics may be a tad syrupy for some, but everyone needs a lil pep talk every now and again. Oh yeah, and there are horns!
think i’ll get outta bed and go to the places I feel happy
think i’ll head for the hills with my edison lightbulb, we could hide out from the world.
I won’t blame you, but if you want to…come along.
- The song that resonates with me the most is “Wolf is Me”. It brings in a rockabilly sound with a whisper of bluegrass. The guitar interlude really takes this song to incredible heights. Daniel’s lyrics bring you to a darker place than the rest of the album, exposing inner demons and the salvation that is hidden, and often found, at the bottom of a bottle:
consequence, who’s side are you on?
the faithful or the fallen ones?
anyways, what’s the difference?
I’m tired of trying to please everyone
I hold my tongue, I cannot speak.
alcohol please don’t fail me, I could use some comfort just right about now…
unravelin just underneath, but I wear it well don’t you think.
Here’s a video of them performing this song live from Gray Matters Studio:
The overall sound of Daniel Ellsworth may be hard to pin down to one specific genre, but it is undoubtedly spilling over with an array of addictive rhythms, beautifully blended folk rock harmonies and infectiously poppy piano riffs all covered with a smudge or two of that Nashville grit. Slow down and take your time with this album. It will make you shake a leg with a smile on your face, and maybe even a Polaroid camera in your hand…