Vastly nuanced and textured
The second solo studio release from James Elkington, entitled Ever-Roaming Eye, itself is a wandering and explorative work that highlights Elkington’s virtuosic guitar playing with its richly textured and hypnotic rhapsodies. Though grounded in the folk music tradition, Elkington’s primary goal seems to be exploring what he can do on guitar as he explores various moods, textures and feelings on this quixotic album.
The album centers around Elkington’s masterful guitar skills and builds songs around it, which provides the album with both a sense of calm and of frenetic urgency. The opening track “Nowhere Time” begins with a full minute where Elkington solo introduces the entire album, oscillating between soft and intense, picking quickly then gently, and relishing in both the crispness of isolated notes and the richness of notes in quick succession. From there, he is joined by percussion, bass and vocals (sung by Elkington himself). Elkington continues his complex guitar structure, but all of the other pieces fit neatly around the framework the guitar establishes.
This strategy is particularly successful because of the strength of musicians accompanying Elkington on his album. They keep up with Elkington’s constant movement with equal dexterity. “Late Jim’s Lament” shows the entire ensemble groove. The languid bass and minimalist brushes combine with the hushed voice and guitar and augment each other.
Lyrics on this album are secondary, which is not to say they are bland or uninspired, but the textures created by the voice accompanying the rest of the instruments generally subsumes the importance of the lyrics themselves. Some songs are entirely instrumental, and yet the instrumental “Rendlesham Way” is one of the most expressive songs on the album. However, Elkington’s lyrics tend to be highly personal and confessional and add to the vivid emotional imagery on the album.
In the album’s 10 songs, Elkington doesn’t waste a single second or beat, which allows the album to maintain momentum throughout. Each song feels carefully crafted to elicit certain feelings, which assures the album remains interesting after several listen. More and more carefully listens prove rewarding, as finer details emerge and the enigmatic structure of the album reveals itself. Listen carefully and you can hear the soft percussive thrum of Elkington’s fingers pulling and sliding on the strings, which adds another, subtler layer to the sound.
Before releasing his own music, Elkington lent his skills to the likes of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco—another Chicago-based band—Richard Thompson and Tortoise and released the 2013 album Ambsace with Nathan Salsburg. Elkington shines in his collaborative work, but with Ever-Roaming Eye it’s clear he can hold his own as a songwriter and performer, and that years of dedication to his craft is paying off.
Though it can initially sound like easy listening, a gentle album to lull you into a trance, Ever-Roaming Eye grows more interesting the more focus you can give it. Elkington’s nuanced guitar playing and imaginative song-writing will not disappoint on this album, though I am sure would be all the more impressive in live performance. For the time being, Ever-Roaming Eye proves replete with interesting songs and excellent musicianship.