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Chad Elliott: Singing River
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/28/2021)
With the proliferation of singer-songwriters, in order to stand out, you can present something new and different, or you can do the musically familiar really well. This week we have a good example of the latter, the latest recording by a veteran Midwestern rootsy composer-vocalist guitarist named Chad Elliott, and his new recording is called Singing River.
Chad Elliot is a resident of Iowa and is something of a polymath. His official biography says that Singing River is his 25th album and has written over 1500 songs. He is also a published author, including of children’s books, and he is also a visual artist doing work as a painter and illustrator. In fact his major in college was in the visual arts.
In recent years, his music has been moving toward roots rock, and he has journeyed to record in Nashville and to Memphis’ famous Sun Studio. His new album was made at another storied location, the Fame Studio at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with members of the house band that created memorable hits going back to the 1960s, bassist David Hood and keyboard man Spooner Oldham. The producer was another veteran Midwesterner Bo Ramsey.
The result is a first rate album that delivers the goods. Elliot sings and writes from a standpoint of experience. His low, somewhat gruff vocals recall Townes VanZandt, Chris Smither or Peter Mulvey. Unlike some on the more poetic side of the singer-songwriter genre, Elliott’s lyrics are direct and unambiguous. He touches on familiar topics, including a couple of love songs, but he can still bring more insight. The musical setting is tasteful and usually has a great groove from the tight rhythm section and generally understated playing.
The album opens with Down and Out which can recall Chris Smither with its bluesy, minor-key sound. <<>>
Crimson Queen is a kind of story song about a women who had an effect on those around her, and not always for the better. <<>>
A straight-out love song celebrating a durable relationship is called Evergreen, and is nicely done. <<>>
Along the same lines, is a track called Call of the Wild also celebrating a stable relationship that has suppressed the urges to go on the road. <<>>
On the other hand Salt River Psalm laments the end of love, for whatever reasons. <<>>
Bible Belt Saturday is an appealing reminiscence of teenage years, complete with cars and girls. <<>>
Trials of the Heart examines the rough patches in a relationship with some of the best lyric writing on the album. <<>>
The closing track is its title piece, Singing River, another of the album’s highlights, with a kind of affirmation of the strength of a marriage. <<>>
Singing River the new album by veteran Iowa singer-songwriter Chad Elliot is a class act. The rootsy backing by the members of the Swampers, the house rhythm section for many a classic Muscle Shoals recording, is thoroughly tasteful. Elliot’s experienced-sounding vocals further enhance the album’s authenticity. His songs don’t beat around the bush or get much into allegory. There are some relatable stories, well told.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. Most of the time the kind of classic Muscle Shoals sound comes though. But occasionally the vocals could have been a bit cleaner. The dynamic range is about average for the genre, which is to say not at an audiophile level.
There are plenty of singer-songwriter on the scene these days. Chad Elliott stands out with his unpretentious, high quality songs, served up with honesty and intelligence.
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