It wasn’t going to be easy for guitarist Elijah McLaughlin to outdo his brilliant 2020 debut album, but he certainly achieved that feat with this majestic LP of improvised chamber folk music
Available this Friday on good ol’ Tompkins Square Records, Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble II features the trio of musicians (Joel Styzens on hammered dulcimer and Jason Toth on upright bass) bringing an almost modern classical approach to the sort of American string music that Norman and Nancy Blake were concocting in the ’80s.
Songs like “Effigy” find McLaughlin using his acoustic guitar to steer the band into choppy waters. He fills the tune with fierce fingerpicking and bursts of rapid fire percussive strums as Toth swoops in dramatically with his groaning bowed bass. The jam possesses a thick bucolic vibe, but it also seems to suggest stormy skies, chaos and ultimately, by the end, a calmed peace.
Meanwhile, tracks like the opening number, “Zodiac Rabbit,” shimmer and glide serenely like a Powers/Rolin Duo piece. At times, the three musicians work in harmony together, blending their instruments into a single warm bath of wooden sound. Yet at other points, an individual member might careen off and play something totally disparate to create some extra texture or a new contrasting drone for the other musicians to play off of. It’s a pretty impressive accomplishment when you consider that many of the songs were done in a single take.
The tunes on this record all glow with a welcoming, but serious warmth. It’s like a performance of devotional music from some unknown Appalachian congregation. It stirs your soul and elevates your disposition, while stunning you with its reverie. If you’re in.a bad place, this record will set you straight again.
With the complex free arrangements that allow each instrument the room to breath and lead when it wants to, this album is a grand evolution of the joys and beauty of the first one. This is a snapshot of a great artist fully realizing his vision. And what an exquisite vision it is, too.
Click here to preorder your copy of this record today.