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Honest and reflective

Artist: Ellis

Recording: "Tigers Above, Tigers Below"

Openness, honesty and clarity pour from her words and sound. Folk musician Ellis' newest release, "Tigers Above, Tigers Below," contains a fullness and sincerity that has always come through in her music.

Her voice cascades through the album with a renewed freshness in each song. The instruments coast with crispness and ease. Acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, flutes, pianos - all are played with elegance.

The album begins with a strong, upbeat tune that incorporates acoustic, electric, vocal and written expression to explain the psychosis of a detailed mind. Following is the century-old tale of someone reclaiming herself from a mixed up relationship. But the story is played out in a new way; unpredictable, understandable and agreeable. The song "Liberty" follows; the liberty she seeks is from demons inside, realizing the only way to real freedom is to face them. Words and music travel together on a round-about journey to that discovery. "Sacred" is a slow-building ballad with Ellis' sincere vocal croon cascading through her profound thoughts. Then comes the title track, a powerful straight-at-you tune, about the strengths inside that pull us through, and the soft places that always need protection.

The album continues with "Looking for the Good," entirely acoustic, with a piano and guitar acting as pillows for the vocals to rest on; "Expendable," a straightforward story about what feelings are real and what are "expendable"; the upbeat "Nothin' New," with flutelike vocal harmonies and a deep rhythm, about the not-so-mysterious aspects of life; "Freedom" and the sweet "Broken," about selfless love; and the album's closing piece, "As You Are," reminding us that no matter how far we go, we are always just ourselves.

"Tigers Above, Tigers Below" is an album for the reflective soul, with each song a story and search for deeper understanding.

"Tigers Above, Tigers Below" is available at Rockin Rudy's, and Budget Tapes and CDs. Ellis performs at The Raven in downtown Missoula, on Saturday, May 17, for this album's release party.

The universal language

Artist: Matthew Marsolek

Recording: "The Bhakti Road"

Every culture in the world incorporates music into some aspect of its life. Thanks to musical adventurers like Matthew Marsolek, these cultures are sharing. While the Rolling Stones tour India, Marsolek creates an album of Bhajan (Indian hymns) in Montana.

"The Bhakti Road" is full of soothing chants in which Marsolek's rich vocal abilities shine. Harmony vocalists answering his chants complement his deep, gentle voice, which adds fullness to the sound. Guitars, djembe, didgeridoos, and all kinds of percussive instruments fill in any leftover spaces and add texture to the music.

These chants can sound repetitive, but there is a purpose to repetitive sound: A strong current of calmness flows through the album. Each tune follows a pattern of call and response, with Marsolek calling and a chorus of voices responding. The music swells and lifts and then relaxes, giving it almost a wavelike quality.

Throughout his travels, Marsolek has always brought something back. This album is one of his gifts from a growing world. "The Bhakti Road" is wonderful for relaxation, soothing and inspiring with unassuming grace.

"The Bhakti Road" is available at Rockin Rudy's and Budget Tapes and CDs.

Warm Summer River

Artist: Peter Mayer

Recording: "Earth Town Square"

While the air sits heavy with rain this spring, it is nice to know that soon it will be summer, and the light, warm summer breezes will begin. The music of Peter Mayer on his most recent album, "Earth Town Square," is comparable to that light summer air.

In "Earth Town Square" is a recurring syncopation of guitars and percussion running around each other, while Mayer's voice rides easily and calmly over and through the music. A swell of background music moves through the album like a river through the center, and acoustic instruments decorate the river like jumping fish on a buggy evening. Among Mayer's offerings: a foot tappin' tune about a house on a river; "Awake," which begins with a far-off voice crying out in the background and continuing voices, human though wild, setting the background for a tune about all the magic aspects of nature; and "Elijah Jones," the country-gospel tale of words on a gravestone that make a man ponder his life.

"Earth Town Square" is a warm yet light companion, with Mayer's voice a pleasant storytelling friend and the acoustic and electric instruments giving the album a completed sound.

"Earth Town Square" is available at Rockin' Rudy's and Budget Tapes and CDs. Peter Mayer will be playing at the Roxy Theater in Missoula, Friday, May 16 at 8 p.m.

Erica Parfit is a free-lance writer who reviews music for the Missoulian. Send your recording to Erica Parfit, c/o the Missoulian, P.O. Box 8029, Missoula MT 59807.

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