Mark Erelli,
Compass & Companion
(Signature Sounds, 2001)

A good year and a half ago, when I first started writing for Rambles, I asked to review Mark Erelli's first CD out of curiousity. I had known him when I was a wee thing and I was intrigued to see how a faint memory might turn into present connection through music. Anyone who has read my review of his self-titled debut know I was completely won over by the man's style and music, despite my previous inclinations.

Over the past months, I can only admit to having grown to love the music and the performer even more. After seeing a good many shows whenever Erelli toured through Boston, most often at the intimate and energized Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass., I was gratified to see how much he was gaining both audience and songwriting flair. I was equally struck by how his unassuming stage presence only served to amplify the talent vibrating from every song. It is certainly an added point in his favor that upon recognizing me at one concert (a feat I had not expected) he was friendly, gracious and happy to talk.

Compass & Companion is Erelli's long-awaited sophomore album, and for fans like me it was well worth the wait. His songwriting has grown more nuanced and powerful, and the compositions sound more polished than his previous efforts. He has also ventured more into a variety of influences, from country to rock, though this album is in topic a tad more melancholy that the last.

Erelli has managed, with tracks like "Little Sister," "Why Should I Cry" and "Miracle Man," to capture the lightning of his live shows in a bottle on this CD. The joking and affectionate "Little Sister" is a much-requested treat for those fans who trekked out to see the performer live -- and it makes a happy addition to this album for loyal fans and newcomers alike. The energy behind the music has not faltered since Erelli's first album, and the artistry of both the songwriting, the compositions and the wherewithall to surround oneself with great musicians has made this album a vibrant and impressive next step. Erelli is constantly experimenting with style and presentation as well as songwriting, so one can never quite predict what the next track (or album) will bring -- a happy state of anticipation.

On the slower side, tracks like the opening "Ghost" and "My Love" almost convince the listener that Erelli should sing nothing but mournful love songs. The real gems on this album are the strong, delightfully twangy title duet with Kelly Willis, "Compass and Companion," and the hauntingly old-fashioned ballad "Take My Ashes to the River," co-written with fellow songwriter and friend Jonathan Kingham. In the former, you can almost feel the steady rhythm of a car on a highway lulling you to dream, and in the latter, you can almost smell the water and woodsmoke.

As a reviewer and fan, and I can only patiently, gleefully, anticipate where Erelli will go next.

[ by Robin Brenner ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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