This is the seventeenth studio album by Marl Erelli who has an impressive back-catalogue across a range of genres. He is most recognised as a Massachusetts based singer/songwriter of folk Americana, but he has recorded this album in Nashville with a wide range of musicians to produce an altogether rockier, ballad-oriented set of songs. The resultant sound originates outside of that which may have been expected, making the title ‘Blindsided’ suitably appropriate.
According to the liner notes Mark sticks to the acoustic guitar and is ably accompanied by drummer Jamie Dick (Rhiannon Giddens, Our Native Daughters), guitarist Sadler Vaden (Jason Isbell, Josh Ritter), Kai Welch (Molly Tuttle, Kacey Musgraves) on keys, producer Hickman on bass and Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Caroline Spence) along with additional vocals and a string quartet. This combination has produced a rich, full band sound throughout. Many of the strongest songs are co-written, suggesting Mark may be at his happiest and most creative when bouncing ideas off someone else.
This collection opens with the title track ‘Blindsided’ which is an upbeat classic rock number. Mark uses his vocal style to full effect. The quality of the lyrics and musical composition is immediately evident and sets the tone for the rest of the album. ‘Her Town Now’ is a full-on power-pop anthem with mandatory intro. This is the probably the closest Mark veers towards a direct Tom Petty homage. ‘The River Always Wins’ is another punchy number that was co-written with Susan Cattaneo. ‘Rose-Coloured Rearview’ is all rock nostalgia with just the right amount of piano and a well-judged guitar solo. The statement that “only white men miss the good old days” recalls the observation that even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
The feel of the album is reflective, with a hefty dose of nostalgia thrown in. The sound is at once familiar in style and content and is going to be attractive to a lot of people. The pleasure that is evident throughout the recording process suggests this may continue to be a rich source of satisfaction for Mark and for many listeners. You can expect him to gain more admirers from this result. He has hit a sweet spot with this combination, name-checking Dylan and Springsteen and drawing inspiration from Tom Petty, while avoiding sounding too derivative.
What is the cause of this departure from prior form? Maybe the clue is in the lyric “All the things that brought me comfort, they just seem tired and worn, what always used to work ain’t working anymore”. Too often when an artist incorporates many new musicians and a string quartet into an album it is because they are stale and don’t know what else to do. This is emphatically not the case here, the result is a classic album that will call to mind many familiar artists.