CD REVIEW: "Covering The Distance"

CD: Covering The Distance
ARTIST: Jeff Ellis

The world has turned and left 27-year old Jeff Ellis where he wants to be: back at home in West Virginia.

On his new 12-song CD, "Covering The Distance," Ellis picks up where his last effort left off. But where "A Front Seat For The End Of The World" was focused on his time in Kuwait as part of the Iraq war and had a bit of a harder edge, "Distance" has big acoustic-based rock songs on it with a little bit of country, bluegrass and folk thrown in, and is about Ellis picking up the pieces of his life and celebrating his roots.

As Ellis opens up on songs like the alt-country "When You Come Back Around," the hard rockin' chart topper "I'm Not Leaving This Time" (with cool lo-fi drum samples) and the title track; big band rock numbers with the richly textured feel provided by Phil James on piano and organ, and Bud Carroll's soaring solos, Ellis looks to get back lost love.

Which is good, because we felt really bad for him when we heard him sing "Time Slips Away" on "Front Seat."

Ellis kicks out the bluegrass on the frollicking "West Virginia Hills" and "The Men In Sago Mine," -- seemingly the best and worst about our state, from whitewater and Rhododendrons to coal mine disasters, wrapped up at once.

He gets a little mushy on tunes like "I'm Not Sure If It's Love" and the very cool "Sleepyhead" -- a tune dedicated to time in Hawaii, we think. With echoey bells and guitar and Carroll's solos, the lazy recounting of time on the beach with a chick reminds us of tunes off Beck's tropically tinged "Sea Changes" -- very cool.

The upbeat attitude takes a nosedive on "Something Bad's Gonna Happen," as Ellis feels a "storm blowing in" and decries apathetic attitudes towards "the opening chapter of the ever after" and bemoans his "meaningless existence." Ellis sings on the chorus:

"I wanna lay down, curl up on the floor
hope that I die when I wake up tomorrow
or sometime before"
Like most songs on the CD, Ellis puts in a cool bridge to provide a hook. Ellis sings over and over on the outro "The shit that I've been taking ain't working no more." With piano and powerful guitar, it's one of our favorite tunes on the CD, and a nice song for these crisis-abundant times.

Quite possibly our favorite song on "Distance" is the infectious toe-tappin' harmonica soaked Americana tune "Grandpa's Place." With Jimmy Lykens of the Souls on uprght bass and a nicely added accordion, Ellis takes us on a stroll down memory lane as he recalls Sundays at his grandparent's house. In parts, Ellis' vocals (combined with the harmonica) evoke Dylan, and near the end of the song a twangy acoustic solo walks up and by this point if you haven't started moving some part of your body in rhythm, please check for a pulse.

A bender to end all benders provides the motivation for "40 Days," as Ellis tries to convince someone up there that, if they help things stop spinning, Ellis will stay dry for a month an a half. There's more killer bluesy Carroll riffage on this tune. "Goodnight, Capital City" is kind of a depressing bar-based tune as Ellis finds himself quite lonely, heading home after last call.

"Distance" closes with "The Day Paul Went To Sleep and Never Woke Up," a somber acoustic song about Ellis' uncle passing.

We got hooked up with the advance copy in May, and it's been remixed twice and then mastered for the final product, which must be rockin; the advance copy, recorded by Eddie Ashworth (Pennywise, Sublime) in Athens, Ohio, could from our lay perspective, stand as a final version.

With this release on the heels of "Front Seat" (and his recent first place finish at the Mountain Stage NewSong International finals) Ellis cements himself as quite possibly the best songwriter in the state. Ellis and Carroll have combined to make some of the best music we've heard; together they form some kind of superteam of rock.

Ellis, with his friend James, Carroll and crew, and a half dozen guest musicians, mixes it up on this CD with impressive results. This CD has been in our regular rotation for five months and is definitely worth picking up.

mp3: “Something Bad’s Gonna Happen” by Jeff Ellis

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