Huntington, W.Va., native Jeff Ellis released his first solo album (The Enemy) just before his Army Reserve unit was called to the Middle East in July of 2005. He returned from Kuwait and Iraq 18 months later with a supply of four-track recordings and journal entries, which he turned into his second solo album, A Front Seat for the End of the World. Since then, Ellis has performed on West Virginia's Mountain Stage, been a featured artist on National Public Radio, and most recently, was one of five co-winners in the 2008 Newsong international songwriting contest. Ellis' third solo release, Covering the Distance, was released in October of 2008.
(Review of Covering the Distance, courtesy of Jen Grover at Tone and Groove)
Jeff's latest finds the West Virginia native returning to his Appalachian roots, with a more country sound. Pedal steel and banjo accent the opener, "When You Come Back Around". Fiddle ushers in the Celtic-flavored "West Virginia Hills". Autoharp, hammer dulcimer, and even a washboard crop up in other songs. In the midst of it all is the pretty, soulfully sung, bluesy pop/rock love song "Sleepyhead", with it's 70s rock electric slide guitar. "Grandpa's Place" is a feel good ode to simpler times, closeness of family, and happy memories. An older song of Jeff's, "Goodnight Capital City", gets a country-fied update, but to be honest, I much prefer it as a rock ballad.
It's wonderful to have a proper release of "The Men in Sago Mine", Jeff's heart-wrenching tribute to the victims of that disaster, and the families they left behind. It's a haunting, beautiful melody in the fine Appalachian Old Time tragic ballad tradition, on a topic that's both old and, sadly, current.