Review: William Lee Ellis Keeps Things Raw and Actual on the Guitar–Pushed ‘Ghost Hymns’

It wasn’t till I become about halfway through my 2nd hear to William Lee Ellis’ most up-to-date album, Ghost Hymns, that it dawned on me that I had indubitably favored a old characterize of his called Conqueroo formula inspire within the early 2000s. That disc had prolonged since vanished from my collection (it isn’t elegant, nonetheless it surely happens), nonetheless thanks to Spotify I with out misfortune called it up and become in a deliver to journey that album anew. 

William Lee Ellis, Ghost Hymns (Yellow Dogs)

What made it resonate with me so great inspire then is the the same element that makes Ghost Hymns indubitably feel so alive to me twenty years later: Ellis is a masterful genre-bender who sounds entirely at home and thoroughly invested in no matter model he tackles, whether it’s downhome blues or bluegrass or countrified gospel or folk or some amalgam of all forms of different influences he’s absorbed and channeled into his tune. He writes guitar-pushed songs that sound love ageless numbers plucked out of the general public area—familiar nonetheless no longer without prolong still usual. Ten of the dozen tracks on Ghost Hymns were written or co-written by him; the other two are a aged folk track and one written by his father, Tony Ellis, who become a longtime banjo player in Invoice Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys (and a successful bandleader submit-Monroe—indubitably, William performed guitar alongside with his dad for a very very prolonged time).

In the years since Conqueroo, Ellis’ exclaim has gotten a color deeper and a shrimp bit rougher—most bright for the model of self-discipline cloth he writes and sings. The album as a total also has a moderately roughhewn quality to it that matches the vintage vibe of the songs. It become recorded, largely stay, in a necessity of varied areas at some level of the pandemic, so the sonics from track to track would possibly presumably be a chunk varied (is that real ragged analog tape exclaim on about a tracks?), nonetheless that provides to the general personality of the mission, which is as uncooked and real as would possibly even be. 

The guitar work at some level of reveals Ellis’ spectacular vary, and the exceptional collection of instruments, with varied tonal colors and performed with varied suggestions (fingerpicked, strummed, slip), offers every track a distinctive indubitably feel. His arsenal this day out entails a 1997 Gibson J-60, a 1970 Martin D-18, a mid-1920s Gibson L-0, a 1977 Bruce Taylor jumbo 12-string, a 1936 National Duolian, a 1942 Gibson J-Forty five, and a circa 1973–’74 Guild F-112 12-string. Worth noting, too, is a splendidly funky-sounding 1870s fretless banjo that kicks off the album. 

Ellis is terribly ably assisted on most tracks by other instrumentalists and singers organically built-in into the entire: all forms of bright percussion, bass, fiddle, piano on one track, a string quartet on one more. There’s an informal, nearly ramshackle air to the proceedings, as if it’s a gathering of friends bigger than an actual band, nonetheless that simplest provides to spirit and emotional authenticity coursing through every track.     

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