STANDING UP Elijah Ocean’s second solo effort.
You definitely can't accuse of Elijah Ocean of just doing the same old thing. His sophomore solo album (and the 12th, by my count, album the 29-year-old has been heavily involved with writing and recording) is a much more robust affair than his first solo work, 2009's The Wind or the Wine, which was often just Ocean and a guitar. But it's not his old trio Loverless, either. There's no snarl or punch here on Tumble & Fall, but rather a relaxed folk pop that's really easy on the ears.
Too, last time out he was long-haired, wearing velvet jackets, and doing some kind of Donovan impersonation. Now, he's cleaned up, short-haired, wearing suit jackets, and frequenting the sounds of Bob Dylan backed by the Band. Really, with the harmonica opens and sometimes-reedy back-of-the-throat delivery, even his cadence, the Dylan references are pretty strong, but with some Jeff Tweedy contemporary wink-wink, too.
It's not overly distracting, though, and he mixes things up pretty nicely so that he's not simply aping Dylan's sound from Highway. The chorus from "The Girl on the Hill" might even remind of the Grateful Dead playing "Deal." There are also echoes of Justin Townes Earle's new record, and people who've been digging Steve Jones's record lately might hear similarities in "The Diplomat" and "The Book." The four-note entry by New Wheel labelmate Jeff Malinowski of Basement Band on the electric guitar in the former charges up what is the most stripped-down open here, with a build fueled by Andrew Hodgkins's (As Fast As) bass drum and tambourine. The latter gets quiet for the bridge — "Since I saw you last, time has moved so fast/There must be something you been doing while it passed" — and calls the Eagles to mind a bit, but has the best guitar solo.
The polka waltz that acts as bridge for "Bigger" is pretty inspired, a cool change-up with crisply delivered lyrics: "And when six turned to seven and seven turned to eight/You brought me to dinner and dinner was great." Old Loverless mate Dan MacLeod plays a spare bass on "You Only Miss Me" that gives it a lurching cadence balanced out by a shuffling snare. Malinowski's guitar here grabs your attention in the right channel, an equal to Ocean's vocals.
There are some backing harmonies that are a bit too bright (I noticed it most in the closing "Her Eyes Don't Lie"), and Eric Ambrose's piano can get lost in the mix at times, but those are small quibbles and they do kind of lend an old-school Gram Parsons feel to the album in general. It's easily Ocean's most mature work and ought to be very well received by those diving into the roots revival that's going on industry-wide.
TUMBLE & FALL | Released by Elijah Ocean | with the Coloradas | at One Longfellow Square, in Portland | April 19 | elijahocean.com