Australian country music can stay true to its American roots and also sound like a product of its antipodean environment. While the big names chase the sales figures and follow well-worn formats there others that carve out a sweet niche of inner city honky tonk and heartworn laneways. James Ellis’ imagination was captured on a trip to Austin and he’s dovetailed his own style and stories into the most American of musical forms.
The music is resolutely ‘country’, with weeping pedal steel, simply-strummed acoustic guitars, shuffling drums and plenty of twang. It’s authentically presented and could be mistaken for a 70s recording if it wasn’t for Ellis’ voice – a lazily warm instrument with more than a hint of Paul Kelly in the way he shapes his words and the cadence of his delivery – ‘The Bush Companion’ being a perfect example. ‘Xmas Lights’ adds a contemporary sheen, a contrast to the more traditional styles that surround it. It works well, bringing to mind War On Drugs if they chose to fuse yacht rock and country with their own sound. ‘Don’t Go Down To The Water Daddy’ stands out for its darker mood but Ellis’ proclivity for pliable melodies prevents things from getting too ominous.
There is a sense of some songs drifting by with little differentiation and too many mid-paced moments, but on his noteworthy debut Ellis shows he can foot it with maverick and classicist contemporaries such as Daniel Romano and Zephaniah OHora.