I owe Ronny Elliott a big stinkin’ apology. He sent me this record months ago, and I’ve flat sat on it since. Maybe got lost in it’s more accurate. I’ve spun it countless times, and thought once or twice I had a bead on it.
Lost the bead.
Found countless things to appreciate, angles to ponder, historical figures to go look up.
Kinda how it always works with Ronny’s stuff, I guess. The man’s some kind of mystic genius, a guru of the obscure, a swami with an all-seeing eye pointing out the links between our forgotten back trails and the battered world we now inhabit. How we got from there to here, you see. Even if nobody else knows it yet. The rabbit trails a man can go down after beginning to understand one of Ronny’s records border on the infinite. Yet there’s a thread of calm throughout, an underpinning security even when times are desperate and protagonists are falling apart at the seams. Perhaps it’s that perfectly etched baritone vocal, that solid and strong foundation delivering each lyric as some sort of gift. Then again, maybe it’s the seemingly spare and understated yet in truth astonishingly well layered and expertly crafted ocean of sound and accompaniment backing the lines. An Elliott song is a lot like ocean waves, in fact – the ones crashing ashore in the darkest hours of the night, when only the searchers and the despondent make their way to a beach and take in the quiet roar. There’s power in the steady percussion upon the sands, an inestimable force apparent yet hidden in the lapping dying edges of the surf. Ronny’s records are often like that, and I’ve Been Meaning To Write is no exception.
Move over, mama
My side of the bed is wet with rum
I’ve got a powder in my pocket
Blow us all to kingdom come
I got a fire in my heart
I wanna give you some
I keep my eyes open
I keep my nose clean
I keep a chain on my heart
If you know what I mean
I rolled the dice when my last dream was gone
Turned up the heat
And waited for dawn
Countless ways to go with a lyric like that, innumerable ways for the meaning to resonate deep in each individual listener’s breast. A fine narrative, yet open to interpretation. At times that’s Ronny’s most powerful, most impactful gift.
Make no mistake, though. He can take you down a brutal straight line with equal ease. See “Handsome Harry the Hipster” as Exhibit A. Kid makes a name in the jazz clubs in the ‘20s, makes it uptown by the ‘30s and is riding a wave like no other. Kicks Manhattan into the gear in the ‘40s, unleashing the first nascent growls of rock ‘n roll. Walks that line, then bolts straight across it in ’47 when he releases “Who Put the Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.” Hello, blacklist. And as Ronny then notes, ‘oddly enough, the wave of rock and roll that washed over our culture…. Took out many of the pioneers.”
I didn’t know who Harry Gibson was before Ronny introduced me to him with this song. Before it had finished, it seemed as if Harry was an old friend. As Elliott told of the Hipster’s demise – by his own hand – in Key West in 1991, it felt as if I’d lost a friend. That’s another key part of Elliott’s genius, see. He’s a masterful storyteller, a weaver of tales as vivid and as multi-colored as life itself. I’ve learned a lot about Harry Gibson since, and I’ve wondered why others in the circles I’ve traveled also find themselves unaware of the man and his contributions. Got Ronny Elliott to thank for both the introduction and the education.
There’s not a sour note on this record, top to bottom. There’s plenty to learn, and powerful observations to spare. Depths to plumb and research to do. Yet if you’re of a mind in the quiet of an evening’s gloam, perhaps in possession of a good cigar and a tumbler of something nicely aged, there’s also simple solace and enjoyment to be found in this collection of recorded musings. It rages without the need to be raucous, informs without pretention, and muses at will down myriad paths all more than worth the journey.
Elliott’s music can at times seem beguilingly simple, but the truth is there’s a masterful complexity at work. He’s one of the most enjoyable and satisfying writers among us today. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the visionaries and legends he’s worked with over the decades. Or maybe it’s just that as he’s gone down his own paths, he’s observed and learned at every stop along the way. He’d been meaning to write, anyway. And when he did, well, he sure enough did.
Terrific record. I trust Ronny will forgive me for the delay in penning this review. And for all of the goodness the record holds that I have failed to mention here. I hope you, on the other hand, will go look into it for yourself. It’s quite a journey, eminently more than worth the time you will spend immersed in it along your own way.
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.
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