“I think I realize where I’m going with my life” sings David R. Elliot on ‘Empty Rain‘, the last track on his latest release Strawberry Grass. It’s a startling admission of intent from the Saint John born singer-songwriter which, taken out of the context of the song, sounds like a mission statement.
It may be a declaration of his intention to spend his life making music. He is, after-all, 16 albums into his short but ambitious career. Given the subject matter on Strawberry Grass; a look back at the struggles faced by his father, it may be a realization that we are doomed to repeat the past. More probable, this is Elliott confessing that he intends to do the best with the hand he’s been dealt.
This has always been David R.‘s strong suite and Strawberry Grass is no exception. Take the first track, ‘I’m Not Him’ for example. This is a scrappy little number with a clear retro sound and a slight punk influence which perfectly suits Elliott’s strained drawl. It’s a formula that he uses to great effect on this track, as well as ‘Letter To My Son’, with its fire and brimstone breakdown that finds Elliott barking about the “strong words of the preacher” over a pulsing kick drum.
Strawberry Grass is ultimately not a raucous affair however, and elsewhere throughout the album the roots of country music run deep. ‘On Alright‘ is vintage country done right. It’s sparse arrangement features just Elliott’s lonesome vocal and acoustic guitar. ‘Back East‘ is another country number, but with more of a folk-leaning that brings to mind a Stompin’ Tom influence. It’s a contender for a first single with it’s East Coast name-dropping and pessimistic “honey you ain’t fooling nobody, I know you’re coming home” refrain.
The country influence continues through ‘Wish In One Hand’ and ‘Going Steady’ before we hit the psychedelic fuzzed-out ‘Due Time’, a peculiar number that declares “love is better left in a song“. It’s the most contrived of the cuts on this album and it sits in direct contradiction to the next track. ‘Golden Ring’ is an honest-to-goodness authentic country song. Elliott hits a home run on this tune, with its love-gone-wrong lyric, and moaning pedal-steel guitar.
‘Empty Rain‘ closes out the record. It’s a beautiful mid-tempo ballad, despite its “long-lost Ryan Adams cut” feel and vocal. Nowhere on the record does the band sound more cohesive than on this track.
All told, Strawberry Grass is another solid entry into what is quickly becoming a varied body of work from this young Saint John transplant.