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June 23, 2006

Ellis started out strong, and stayed that way

Sometimes it’s necessary to step back and look at the big picture. While that’s certainly true literally (just look at the work of pointillist painters like Georges-Pierre Seurat), it can also be true metaphorically, as is the case with the music of singer-songwriter Ellis.

Sitting at a desk with her three most recent full-length releases, I did what seemed like the most logical thing, since she will be playing two dates in Ohio at the end of June and beginning of July: listened to the three, back to back to back.

Everything That’s Real, her third solo album (following her debut Soft Day and Blueprint Live) came out in 2001, four years after her former band Bobby Llama released its first record.

At a point when most young artists would be expected to be struggling to find their footing, Ellis was releasing a solid folk-rock album, filled with clever lyrics and jazzy riffs.

Her 2003 Tigers Above, Tigers Below is another strong effort from the Twin Cities’ favorite lesbian performer.

Especially notable is the title track, a rolling sonic epic laden with crashing waves of drums. It is truly a song that could be enjoyed to its fullest sitting in a room with friends, stoned to high heaven and just enjoying the soundscape being created by Ellis’ words and music.

The 2004 live album Evidence of Joy is a real treasure as well, capturing her interaction with the audience in glorious stereophonic sound.

There is little that humanizes a musician more than hearing them devolve into giggling fits, then struggling to return their breathing to normal to start a song. It is remarkably endearing.

Listening to the three albums in succession, I expected to hear a growth, a development, a maturation. However, considering how intelligently she started, how polished she was from the very beginning, it was not that surprising that there is little evidence of that.

Ellis is an artist who started off strong and has simply carried on from there. She keeps on keeping on, as they said in decades past.

Saying, “Why mess with perfection” would be overstating it. She could use a little more rock in her folk-rock at times. Of course, that is a matter of taste, and after hearing countless lesbian singing-songwriting folk-rockers, you really start to yearn for anything that sets one apart from the others--Ember Swift’s devotion to world music, Rachel Shortt’s razor-edged voice.

But Ellis is good enough, smart enough, and darn it, people like her. She’s won enough awards to make a completely narcissistic shrine to herself, or perhaps wallpaper her bedroom. And, as I mentioned before, she’s coming to town.

She’ll be at People Called Women, 3153 West Central Avenue in Toledo, on Friday, June 30. The 7:30 pm show has admission on a sliding scale from $5 to $10.

The following night, she will be at the Nickel, 4365 State Road in Cleveland. The show starts at 8 pm and cover is $10 for those who can afford it, less for those who cannot.

Full information about Ellis, her music and the tour is available at



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