Sometimes talent will just out and for singer songwriter, Alexander Ellis, a series of serendipitous events (chance meetings, Youtube videos and Scandinavian fans staying to watch the last act of the night) have led to him fronting Our Man In The Field and releasing their debut album on the Swedish label Rocksnob, an offshoot of the well regarded Rootsy Music. You can root around the ‘net for all the stories here but suffice to say that Ellis, having played many of the songs included here solo at any number of noisy pubs across London for a decade, began to form a gang. And a splendid gang it is with bass player Tom Rosenfeld, Henry Senior Jr. on pedal steel and Greg Bishop on drums, giving Ellis’ songs a wonderful waft and wallow of unadulterated and very deft country rock and folk stylings.
Recorded live in the studio, this is a beautifully crafted and carefully measured album which allows Senior’s playing to colour most of the songs while Ellis’ wispy voice sends us postcards from the emotional frontline. There are elements of Laurel Canyon, of songwriters separated by time such as Tim Buckley and Nels Andrews, along with a whiff of Celtic mist within the mix, but the whole is greater than the parts as when a banjo erupts from nowhere to dominate and ground the ethereal Easy Going Smile. There’s also a huge emotional heft at times as with the wonderful performance of It Is What It Is which has a lovely pedal steel lick at the beginning before the band and Ellis descend into an introspective melancholia. Here Ellis excels on vocals, wailing here in a manner which is reminiscent of the best of Alan Hull or Kevin Coyne or even Loudon Wainwright.
Whether it’s the fleet footed melodrama of Swansong (Don’t Play With Matches), the rustic rumble of Pockets or the autumnal shades of Eleanor’s Song, one is always impressed by the sheer quality of the band’s playing. Meanwhile songs of the calibre of Thin (I Used To Be Bulletproof) – a real pedal steel swoon suffused with vulnerability- or It Was Ever So, inspired by the closure of a London fire station but a universal plea for social justice, show that his years of jobbing on the live circuit have honed Ellis into being a superior songwriter. The relatively spare and unadorned Don’t Speak, close to the end of the album, allows the listener a peek into Ellis alone and it speaks volumes that here he is just as engaging as he is when adorned by his band’s superb playing.
The Company Of Strangers has been a debut long in the making but it’s delivered fully formed and announces a significant new talent. Here’s to serendipity.