Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Music Review - The Elms - Truth, Soul & Rock & Roll

It appears that a great deal has happened to this little Christian band since I reviewed their second album back in 2003. They got a major label release and toured with big names and ultimately decided to pack it all in after a fourth album. I just heard their shrewdly titled "Back In Indiana" song, which got licensed for basketball or something, and it sounded like what I remember of The Elms: well played but mostly generic rootsy rock.

Hailing from Seymour, Indiana, The Elms caused quite a stir among Christian music critics with their 2001 release The Big Surprise. That ghetto is unfortunately known for generating a sterilized copy of whatever is hot this week among the major leagues, so when a band like The Elms comes along, a band that so fully incorporates its influences as to make a unique sound, bored critics ruin computer keyboards in droves with excess salivation.

Their follow-up, Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll, exhibits the same qualities as their debut: guitar-driven alt-power-pop played by a very tight band with lots of energy and polish. Lyrically they skate the fence, being spiritual enough for Christian radio and ambiguous enough to appeal to fans of their myriad non-Christian influences.

The classic stadium rocker “Speaking In Tongues” starts the show with an obvious Skynyrd guitar lick and an upbeat George Thorogood feel. As this is the radio single, heavy gospel choir and organ are added to temper the raw rock as a kowtow to make the song palatable for Christian radio formats. The second single, “You Saved Me”, keeps these same musical elements but in a slower anthem format. Here, as in other slow songs, the vocalist sounds like a cross between Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish and PFR, in other words, strong, clean and appealing.

With the label-required two radio songs out of the way, The Elms break loose with “All The While Having Fun!,” dispensing with the choirs and organs and going heavy with the guitar-driven, punk-inspired British rock sound of their first album. Simple yet solid song construction, tasty vocal harmonies and a melodic guitar solo highlight this song. “Burn and Shine” is a breezy smile with shimmering, clear melodies and a tinge of late 60s flower music … a perfect feel-good song that would make even Mr. Magoo crack a smile. Heavy on the Oasis influence is “The First Day,” a melancholy ballad fleshed out by orchestral strings supplied by The Lovesponge Trio. Fans of Queen would likely enjoy “Come To Me” which finds the vocalist sounding similar to Freddie Mercury before exploding to a big, big Brian May sound with a blinding flash of lights and guitars. Gentle acoustic guitar and relaxed vocal harmonies characterize the Nickel Creek-ish “Go Toward The Glow,” and solid rock guitar is to be found on both “Through the Night” and “Happiness”. The final track, “Smile At Life Again,” is a quiet closer with acoustic guitars, a bittersweet melody, encouraging lyrics, and an impressive, vulnerable performance.

While firmly set in the school of All-Things-Beatles, The Elms are able to bring in enough of the raw Rolling Stones and classic rock sounds to give their songs a unique and diverse twist. While not the best Christian music I’ve ever heard. I have no doubt these Hoosiers could make Jars of Clay eat Indiana clay any day of the week.

First published 2003 in WhatzUp.

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