It’s been 5 years since I last wrote about music by Elam Blackman. That’s astounding for a number of reasons. For one it’s a miracle that I’ve written this blog for that long, secondly it’s crazy that I haven’t followed up on that first post about Elam. In the meantime Elam has recorded and released a couple of records, formed his own label, and was instrumental in putting together a compilation fundraiser for New Orleans and their Gulf Spill Fund.
Elam’s new record is out on vinyl through his label Constant Clip and as a download through Bandcamp. The new record is called Friend and was assisted by Paul Curreri and features backing vocals by Devon Sproule. But mostly it’s Elam, his guitar (or banjo), and his songs. I’m going to let the liner notes for Friend do most of the work for me. You can buy the new record on vinyl through Constant Clip here or download the whole thing on Bandcamp here. It’s a great listen.
My good friend Elam Blackman dropped in from cyberspace the other day. It’d been a while, so he couldn’t have known that I was living in a country of sadness, my dear mother having died but two days since. Elam hailed me with that lovely, summer’s-evening, fireflies-in-the-clearing kind way he has about him, and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind waxing a bit for the purposes of an album cover—the very one, in fact, that you’re now clutching in your covetous paws. When he got wind of my circs, Elam offered to dig up another sap for the task, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I readily accepted the honor. But bidding my darling Ma farewell naturally pushed everything else aside for a time. When I’d finally delivered the last of my clan to their respective departure gates I was in what you might call a fragile state. I shut the driver’s side door and the lonely sound echoed through the short-term parking deck. I’d been tending to Ma during the last years of her decline, and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing her recliner sitting empty when I got home. The drive south on I-91 had been a dreary one, and I was hoping the fog would lift. I took a deep breath, jockeyed up Elam’s new record, and turned over the ignition. The first train-track-clickity-clack bars of Railroad Folk kicked in, and then Elam’s thoughtful crooning: “Border town…we are leanin’ against trees…” I smiled. A few bars later, to my delight, a lap-steel floated in on the whistle of a night train. The mindset of my journey ahead was being jostled out of its rut by my friend’s familiar voice.
I’ve long admired Elam’s talents. He has the quality of a mythical creature—a woodland spirit perhaps—whose job it is to go about catching lyrical fragments in a butterfly net. This would explain Elam’s peripheral vision, which I’ve often marveled at being the best around. I mean this figuratively, as I have no idea how he fares at the optometrist’s – all I know is he has magic eyes, blinking his way from Boston to Texas, then Knoxville, everywhere catching the images that will find their way into his songs.
Friend marks Elam’s arrival into maturity. From the wistful, sparse clarity of It “Ain’t No Thing” to the guttural thrum of the rhythmic “The Murder Rides Again”, the cuts on this disk are equal parts sky and earth, flight and furrow. In all this, Elam has found a fine collaborator in Paul Curreri whose “everything else” is done with the refined judgment of a first class accompanist. Curreri is a kind of clothesline where Elam hangs out his tattered linens and holy jeans. The wind comes up and they dance, and they are beautiful without even trying to be. Something in “Caroline” (the red PJ’s or the bent down grass?) released me. Something in the clarity of Elam’s lilt let me in on the sweet suspicion that it—the whole thing—must really be about love after all. The sun began clearing the fog and I relaxed, aware that
there was a way out of the country of grief.
~Mark Small Mountain