Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble


Some real beauty coming out of Tompkins Square lately with an impressive pedal steel collection and reissues from Mal Waldron and Bola Sete, but don’t let this lovely release by Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble slip by either. The trio of McLaughlin, Jason Toth, and Joel Styzens used portions of the pandemic isolation to write a second installment from the band. Convening to lay it down to 1/2-inch tape over the course of four sessions, those works are just now coming to light. Hinged on McLaughlin’s intricate fretwork, but hardly stopping at a mere solo string record, II is a further exploration of the themes of their debut. Ascribing to a bit of the Takoma school, at least a bit more than some contemporaries of late, the works here flutter through folk-blues while edging their feet towards the kind of Neo-classical records that might find a home on 130701.

In particular Toth’s bass adds a richness and depth to the pieces, laying out a wide river of sound for the guitars and dulcimer to ripple around. On songs like “Spring,” despite a title that evokes vernal awakening and rebirth, there’s an inherent sadness imparted by Toth’s sonorous moans. As the record deepens, the banter between guitar strings and dulcimer plays out like a dance in some instances, a conversation in others. McLaughlin’s playing is nimble, but not overly showy, going for emotional impact over technical flash. The record’s high points come when both the folk and compositional nodes come together to feel like complimentary components. Taken on its own, the dizzying folk-blues of “Effigy” would be a stunning track, but the drama and intensity added by the bass elevates this into something deeper, darker, and more resonant. The turbulence of the album emerges into triumph, an album born of isolation, that rips open the doors to kneel in the rain and let the world wash over it once more. It’s hard not to be moved before this collapses to a close.

Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

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