Dennis Ellsworth has long been regarded as one of the finest singer-songwriters to come out of Atlantic Canada.
He’s held in such high regard for a number of reasons – from his firm grasp of the songwriter’s craft and his refusal to settle for anything less than his best effort to his undeniable passion for the creative process, whether he’s working alone or collaborating with others.
Ellsworth has serious chops both as songwriter and as a performer.
And he proves that yet again on Things Change, his soon-to-be-released fifth solo recording.
Produced by Joel Plaskett at Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth, the record features 12 new songs that were penned during a period of time when Ellsworth was making changes in his life, changes that involved some soul searching about his commitment to the music business and the kind of music he wanted to write.
Of equal importance, some might say, was his decision during this period to take better care of his own health and well-being, a move that resulted in his decision to give up alcohol.
Ellsworth’s music has continually evolved, and Things Change represents another stage in that evolution, one I feel should be viewed in a very positive light.
Certainly, that’s the way he feels about it.
“For years I wrote dark, smooth, romantic alt-country-ish type songs,” Ellsworth says. “I don’t know how I ever got there but I stuck with it for a while. I love those records, but I knew it was time I switched things up just to keep myself interested. So, now that it’s happened, I feel like I’ve entered into this new land of possibility and I’m gonna ride that wave for a bit.”
Ellsworth believes, and rightly so, that his songwriting has gotten stronger with every album. “Things Change” is certainly evidence of that.
“And I feel like I’ve found a way to get a message across with the perfect balance. It’s still poetic but does a much better job of drawing a listener in with clear messages and some great combinations of words.”
A prime example of that is “Caught in the Waves”, which references the impact of his use of alcohol and his realization that something had to be done about it.
“I think parts of this song are about knowing you’re sinking from alcohol consumption and acknowledging that you need to make a change for your health. It deals with being off-balance in a relationship, whether its love or booze.”
Self-examination is also the focus of “Absent Mind”, another of the album’s best tracks.
It was written about that period in his life when he was going through what he called a period of confusion, complacency and procrastination.
“It was almost like I was frozen in my tracks. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a part of the music industry anymore in 2016 and I had no idea what I wanted to write about anymore.”
He describes “Absent Mind” as a lighthearted take on knowing when you’ve let things slide and have to deal with the consequences.
I’m also more than a little hooked, no pun intended, on “Stoned in”, which he sings about his enjoyment of a soon-to-be-legal leafy green substance, offering up a happy refrain that could easily become a universal chorus: “I’m stoned out of my mind and all is well.”
As the album title suggests, things do change and, in this case, I believe it is for the better. This is much more of a pop record than some previous offerings. It’s more guitar driven, it’s got more juice, more hooks. This record is just one great song after another all the way through.
In a promo blurb about the record, it was described as echoing the blissful era of Big Star and Cheap Trick, their later acolytes Teenage Fanclub, The Lemonheads and Matthew Sweet and, of course, Plaskett. That’s a pretty accurate description of what you’ll find here.
Given what Ellsworth hoped to accomplish here, asking Plaskett to produce proved to be the absolute right choice. With the help of some great players he helped Ellsworth get everything he possibly could out of these songs.
Look forward to hearing Ellsworth play these tracks live.
(Rating 4 out of 5 stars)
- - The official release date for “Things Change”, singer-songwriter Dennis Ellsworth’s fifth solo record, is April 20.
- - Ellsworth is currently playing a series of dates in British Columbia that will take him into the second week of April.
- - His next scheduled show for P.E.I. is May 3 at The Trailside Cafe in Mount Stewart. He also has a show scheduled for May 18 at Harmony House in Hunter River.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.