6206 Ellen Ave.
Voices from the Attic
When you read that Josh Ritter has a new release you might think that it is a misprint. To Josh Ritter, Oberlin's very own folk explosion, the CD release party must be becoming old hat. Just two weeks after this 20th century troubadour released his self-titled debut, Oberlin will be hit by the second Josh Ritter project, 6206 Ellen Ave.
Don't be mistaken; in some ways Ellen Ave. is not at all the project of the solo folk singer. Most notably, Ellen Ave. is a much more collaborative album, combining the talents of Ritter, Bridget Matros, and Guy Mendilow.
Matros shines throughout, providing both lead and back-up vocals on almost every track on the album. Her voice is rich and warm, and even though she sings entirely covers, they are performed with a great deal of character and individuality. Matros is thankfully not trying to emulate any one, and the covers come off as dedications to truly great folk songs. Her rendition of Patty Griffin's "Sweet Lorraine," is undoubtedly one of the albums best tracks, augmented by incredibly tasteful guitar. Simply put, "Sweet Lorraine" is a beautiful song that is performed beautifully, and when you listen to this album it is hard not to be satisfied by just one listening.
Mendilow's contributions are also substantial. He plays almost every instrument on the CD that is not a guitar, sings back up on a few tracks and more or less is the player that single-handedly saves this album from becoming the all-too-common solo guitar based folk album.
Even with these considerations noted, it would be wrong to say that this album isn't centered on Josh Ritter. He is the writer of all songs that aren't covers; his guitar playing and his voice lend the kind of unity to the album that a mix of original songs and covers requires. His voice and guitar playing have matured significantly since those first timid performances at the Cat in the Cream Coffee House. His songwriting has come a long way too, perhaps best demonstrated by the first track "Not Go Down," which is quite possibly the best performed song on Ellen Ave.
6206 Ellen Ave. is not with out its flaws which, unfortunately for the performers, lie in the areas of production and layout. Mike McDonald recorded the album to analogue at Cleveland's Big Toe Studios, and though some die-hards still cling to the idea of the supposed warmth of analogue sound, the production of Ellen Ave. is lacking. Though they are performed well, the guitars come out boomy and muddled. With one of the most accessible digital recording studios in the region on Oberlin's campus, the decision to record out of town is confusing.
As far as layout is concerned, Ellen Ave. pales in comparison to the professionalism of Ritter's earlier release, and the liner notes which personally invite the listeners to "come on in," and "grab a cool one from the fridge," give the album a particularly collegiate feel, which it could do without.
These flaws are minor when one considers the music within. Ritter, Matros and Mendilow deliver great performances of great songs, a large number of which are written by Ritter himself. Following Josh Ritter to folk stardom is something that Oberlin students will tell their kids about, and in that respect Ellen Ave. is a must have.
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 24, May 14, 1999
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