On As Eli, the queer and trans Latinx songwriter (and accomplished academician) Elías Krell does in fact reflect in a variety of clever and direct, candid and literate ways on hot-button themes of identity and the experience of transformation. But it may take a listener a few spins to key in on such currents and undercurrents, so immediately striking is Krell’s songcraft, their expansive musical range, the glowing intimacy of the production and arrangements, its pervasive sense of artful melancholy. As Eli may present as something culturally radical, but Krell’s musical values are broadly classicist. It is a polyglot, sophisticated classicism, encompassing a waltzy folk, elements of jazz balladry and Euro art-song and a kind of global jangle-pop that cuts across the record but that is epitomized by one of the album’s most dazzling highlights, a cover of Chip Taylor and Billy Vera’s ’60s gem “Under My Umbrella.”
While “Under My Umbrella” is one of As Eli’s several production showpieces, some of its most compelling moments are its least adorned: the concise, lovesick and Everlyesque gem “Call Me Crazy,” in which Krell laments “Who’s gonna fail me now, if you can’t even do that?” is one of my very favorites. “Same Old Song” hearkens to the beautiful-loser country of Gram Parsons. Two songs here – one original and one cover – are sung in Spanish: Krell’s “Horizonte” and “Canción de las Simples Cosas,” Krell’s homage to a personal hero, the Costa Rican-born Mexican musical star Chavela Vargas.
In many ways, As Eli is a work of daring candor, owing some to the confessional tenor of the ’90s female singer/songwriter scene (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan). Krell’s personae are often broken and partial, composing themselves in imperfect relationships, suffused in melancholy as they post-mortem past loves and failures on the road to a more robust personhood. But if As Eli is a confessional record, its candor is of an unusually artful and formal kind: The highest values in these songs are melodic and verbal shapeliness, the arc of a perfect song.
Paradox, Salman Rushdie writes in The Enchantress of Florence, is the lowest form of argument; so I am going low, then, when I say that the most remarkable thing about As Eli is its paradox of stylistic diversity and immersive coherence, its tone of personal intimacy belying the universality of its formal craft. Krell’s references and source materials are far-flung, but as a listening experience As Eli is an unbroken trance of crystalline and intimate chamber-folk and pop: organic, sophisticated and unfailingly pretty.
In a stripped-down trio format with the Hudson Valley’s first-call drummer/percussionist Manuel Quintana and Jim Altieri on violin, piano and accordion, Elías Krell performs at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School’s Music Night at the Old Glenford Church on Friday, May 26, sharing the bill with the guitarist Billy Riker: former shredder in the band 3, now a progressive acoustic guitarist/composer with his own take on the novel, percussive and effect-enhanced tap-and-slap technique of Michael Hedges, Kaki King and others. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the music starts at 7.
The brain trust of the Hudson Valley Sudbury School’s Music Night (HVSS) recently announced the imminent end of the long-running, once-monthly series, the final night of which will occur in January of 2018. Curated and emceed by vocalist Carmen Senski (Sin City), hosted in the spacious, tiered Glenford living room of artist and master chef Mor Pipman, mixed for most of its run by Virgil Fowler and lately by Al Hemberger of Loft Recording and staffed by volunteers from the Sudbury School community, HVSS was (a bittersweet past tense for me) one of the genuine jewels on the local listening-room scene.
Pipman’s exquisite seasonal meals were every bit as much a draw as the eclectic and high-quality music booking. The HVSS has enjoyed that rarest thing in the live music world: a stable core audience, one that showed no matter who was playing, so strong was its confidence in the booking and in the kitchen. While the living-room setting (albeit a living room larger than many small clubs) screams “folk and acoustic” (and there certainly was plenty of that), HVSS was adventurous and unafraid of drum sets and amplifiers.
The suggested donation is $10. The Old Glenford Church is located at 210 Old Route 28 in Glenford. For more information, visit www.hvssmusicnight.org.
– John Burdick
Elías Krell & Billy Rogan’s Welcome Home Party, Friday, May 26, 6 p.m., Old Glenford Church, 210 Old Route 28, Glenford; www.hvssmusicnight.org.