Elie Small - Take You There
Illinois native Elie Small returns with a second album having once again turned to the same production team as was responsible for his first album, In Time. As with that earlier effort, contributing artists included members of Lambchop. Although cited as an album, Take You There would perhaps better be described as an extended EP, clocking in at a total of around 25 minutes in length. In fact, there seems to be some confusion as it has been described as both. Hmm, evidence of a split personality - surely not.
The first thing that strikes you about any of the tracks on the album, or its predecessesor for that matter, is Small's voice. For someone so young his voice has a maturity which conveys an impression of someone much older. It is a voice which is certainly unique, and while it may take a bit of getting used to, once you do you will recognise it instantly. Small has a distinct twang to his voice which adds some real character to the songs and is the one thing above all which puts his music above the crowd.
Most of the tracks on the album are medium-paced packed with atmosphere and containing some good melodies and hooks - the slide guitar on "Not Today" is a particular favourite. "Lonely Land", a slower song, is the exception, and one which suggests that there is more than one string to the bow (or guitar) of Mr. Small. The album as a whole certainly benefits from good production and the various instruments are clearly discernable, which is something relatively rare on self-issued albums. Small himself contributes largely by way of guitars and these he uses to produce a variety of sounds and effects. The body of the sound is made up of a variety of keyboards which provide depth and texture.
It would be hard to pigeonhole Take You There. To describe it as alt-country would be doing it an injustice, for it is much more than that, although I would wager that was where the starting point lay. Yes, there is the steam train clacketing over the sleepers style of drumming at times, particularly on the closing track, "Where I Belong", and some slide guitar on the opener, "Not Today", but the album crosses musical boundaries which should give it a much wider appeal. "Lose You" has an appeal which ought to get wider recognition for Small for it is a track which would not disgrace an album by any of his musical influences and, in my view, is certainly better than anything Wilco have done, a combination of acoustic guitars and an electric which has a very heavy reverb.
If any track on the album could be said to be below the standard of the majority, it would, oddly enough, be the title track. With a melody that is vaguely reminiscent of Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights", it has a stronger pop edge to it, almost as if it were intended to be released as a single and seems somewhat out of place, almost as if it were not written at the same time as the other tracks. That is not to say it is a bad track, but one which perhaps doesn't fit with the overall feel of the rest of the album/EP.
Amid the feeling you can sometimes get of there simply being too many unsigned artists crowding into the same space, all of them shouting to be heard, Elie Small should be the one who grabs your attention. More than a combination of its influences or a product solely of the aspirations of its maker, Take You There has some real quality to it. And with that distinctive voice, Small both deserves and has the potential to be heard a lot more.
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