Monday, March 28, 2016

Elle Carpenter - Complex Simplicity

From time to time we all experience little "perks" in our lives, the extra cheese on a pizza without asking, being given a warning instead of a speeding ticket despite our guilt, even the thank you from a stranger for holding a door.  We all have those perks but in my little world usually those come along the lines of music.  Its a strange world music isn't it?  More often or not we hear faceless musicians playing our favorite songs in a heavy rotation on satellite and regular old radio but the perks are a little more rare in those terms.  Huh?

For as long as I have been writing this blog I have had everyone tell me about bands that they like and that they think I would like, and with very, very minuscule exceptions every band people have told me about have been incredible!  I have friends from every walk of life that give me the heads-up about some bands that have become staples in my listening experience.  The perks I mentioned earlier often come from the musicians I have met and their recommendations come from the artists that they get to hear or know on another level.

It goes without saying that I listen to an exceptionally eclectic music catalog, in fact if one were to look at my iPod briefly they would hear the likes of Slayer and then Tony Bennett and even David + David so I love it when these artists have that a similar taste because those little nuggets can pay off in spades.  I was introduced by a drummer friend of mine to an artist named Elle Carpenter and I have to admit when I got the recommendation I was pretty excited.  The reason for my excitement was based on the description of an artist that was in the genre of "Americana."

"Americana" elicits images of baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet but it also makes me think of Woody Guthrie, Fourth of July parades and folk music.  As I ventured into the world of "Americana" I was thinking of Woodstock, heck hippies, smelly hippies and I thought of all of those performers that took the stage along with Arlo Guthrie (he is the son of Woody Guthrie).  Bands like The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival and even Sha Na Na performed there along with Guthrie, Ravi Shankar, and Joan Baez.  Along with Baez and Guthrie stood the foundations of the '60's folk music so the line where "Americana" and Woodstock is blurred.  That really is the acid test when it comes to the moniker of "Americana" in the terms of music isn't it?  Certainly it becomes more relative in the eyes of those that perform in the "folk" sense of music, but does Carpenter's music fit that shoe?

It's probable but to a minute sense I think if I'm being honest.  Carpenter has a voice that is indicative to that sense of Baez and to an extent Janis Joplin but her voice is unique.  That is a better way to put it, its unique, very melodic and soulful.  Her voice is the kind that eases into your very appreciative ear.  It's calming and almost hypnotic and much like Baez her words have that intelligence that is gripping.

Unlike music I have written about in the past, Pomplamoose is the exception, Carpenter's music doesn't have squealing guitar and pounding bass, it has an easy tone that grips your ear.  When I started writing this article I really didn't have any of her work to listen to so I went my old favorite YouTube and I made a playlist of nine of her songs and I just let it play.  I listened to her over and over and it was striking how beautiful and soothing her vocals, her tone really is.  There is a certain level of intelligence and beauty in her music. 

For an example I look no further than the song "The Future of America," its haunting just her and the acoustic guitar but without the power of an electric guitar screaming, screaming in your ear she hits you square between the eyes with the opening line "If you don't care about the future of America then I have nothing more to say to you."  As we near the Presidential election that really makes you think because regardless of our individual political fronts that line resonates across the board.  Think about that line for a moment, I could ask a thousand people and they would agree with it and yet the song is powerful while refined, I love that song.

There are many songs in this world that I will argue with you should never be remade by ANYONE because they are simply perfect in their original form and yet they become like regurgitated pap on television talent shows.  I scream constantly at the judges and competitors that find it necessary to butcher songs and for the vast majority of the catalog of one of the greatest bands of all-time, The Eagles I hold it in that regard.  On that playlist I mentioned earlier Carpenter has a version of one of the greatest Eagles songs, "Best Of My Love" and I was worried as the song began.  To be fair I never thought that it would be a William Hung version of the song but I approached with immediate distrust.  That was quite dumb because her version is both respectful and incredible.  The vocals of Carpenter on that song are exquisite coupled with the simple beauty of the song it has achieved a status that few ever will or can.  Brilliant!

While I was describing "Americana" earlier I mentioned a variety of bands that seemingly fit the bill and for me the song "Teach Your Children" is as close to that description as possible.  The song was written by the incomparable Graham Nash and recorded by his band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and released in 1970 on their album "Déjà Vu."  That song made it to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is really one of the iconic songs of the '70's, one of my favorites and as Carpenter croons her version it too has entered that classification.

I really enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and as I travel about the world of music it goes without question that its populated with those folks.  I tend to gravitate toward drummers and bass players, I have no idea why but I digress, and I have had some of the greatest recommendations about music from them.  The friend of mine that recommended Elle Carpenter is a drummer and I trust his recommendations emphatically.  He told me that she was a great performer and a heck of a musician, he was spot on.

I made comparisons early on to "Americana" and the impact Woodstock and the artists that performed there had on that subject but Carpenter is far too deep to be just chucked into the mix of those bands.  Each of those bands and performers I mentioned earlier are iconic and I would be lying if I didn't say that but through the history of that period, Carpenter has added another layer of depth to the definition.  Remiss would be the term I would use to describe myself if I were to just put her in that jumble of artists because Elle Carpenter shows her influences, polishes them and presents them in a refined manner that many of the acts that preceded her ever could.

The '60's and '70's were full of acts that were just winging it because they were the pioneers of those decades but Carpenter takes the reins and doesn't look back.  Several times I have called Carpenter brilliant in this article and its a fair assessment because much like Michelangelo single words are used to describe the work of a true master.  Elle Carpenter is far more complex than just one word but it is easy to find the necessity to use just one: brilliant.  I would highly recommend that you find Elle Carpenter on YouTube and assimilate yourself into the complex simplicity that is her work.  If you see a CD, buy it.  If she is performing nearby, attend.  I think that Elle Carpenter is that kind of artist, simply brilliant.

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