by Tom Welsh
Chicago-based British guitarist, James Elkington, has long been displaying his Bert Jansch-esque virtuosity as a side man for luminaries such as Richard Thompson, Jeff Tweedy and Tortoise. Stepping out of the supporting role for his second solo effort, Ever-Roving Eye, James has called in a few favours to turn in some of his most expansive, inventive and concise songs to date.
Recorded at Wilco’s Loft Studios, the album makes use of the eccentric vintage gear on hand and James’ contact list of in-demand circuit veterans. Building on the more trad-folk production of his first record, Wintres Woma, Elkington even seems to have delved into his adolescent record collection as well as the spirit of his early band The Zincs for some of the more boundary-pushing tracks on display here.
This is none more evident than on the title track, which – owing to his understated baritone, the sparse chiming guitars and hypnotic groove – recalls Echo and the Bunnymen had they had more of a grounding in English folk. Perfectly melding the shanty-like chorus harmonies with more transcendent textures and touches, the track’s entrancing rolling rhythms also recall the type of soaring ‘folktronica’ Beth Orton built her name on.
Nowhere Time also displays James’ eclectic tastes, with an insistent rhythm section and well- placed harmonies lending a sense of forward-thinking urgency to Elkington’s folk grounding. The track boasting a blistering guitar break that goes from sounding like The Cure to the Allman Brothers like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Unlike the single edit, the album version of Nowhere Time gives its opening minute to the more familiar Elkington territory of impeccably precise and intricate finger style guitar. Its these moments of the record where he succumbs to type that, on first listen, perhaps gives a sense of a missed opportunity, given the genre-bending inventiveness of the highlights.
However, more great moments reveal themselves on each listen: Leopards Lay Down is a lesson in restrained-yet imaginative songwriting – with a surprising woodwind-led false finish to boot – whilst Sleeping Me Awake has a Harry Nilsson playfulness and inventive production. Late Jim’s Lament even manages to channel a Tarantino-cool vibe, again helped by the atmospheric studio flourishes that pepper the album.
Perhaps, for the more traditional-leaning fan, the best route into this album is Moon Tempering – a baroque-informed beauty lifted by understated strings that also holds some of the album’s most arresting and telling lyrics. Elkington’s assertion that ‘everyone’s archive weighs them down’ while simultaneously calling on ‘the hovering torsos of my teens’ may even be read as an acknowledgment of expectations tempering what could have been a more adventurous, genre-spanning record. As it stands, Ever-Roving Eye serves as a distillation of everything Elkington does best and a possible glimpse at exciting future directions.
Secret Meeting score: 72
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