Betse Ellis - High Moon Order
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High Moon Order (Free Dirt, 2013)

Betse Ellis

Reviewed by Greg Yost

Betse Ellis' second solo effort away from her work with the beloved Kansas City mainstay The Wilders is a "fiddle album," but it's likely not what the average music fan might expect when they hear that term - which is the album's ultimate charm. Sure, "High Moon Order" has a traditional feel to it and there are four conventional instrumental fiddle tunes like the jubilant front porch jam Long Time To Get There, but this album gets more interesting the further Ellis strays from the path.

There's no better example of Ellis' expansive sound on this album than Straight To Hell, an explosive cover of a song from The Clash which originally appeared on the band's celebrated 1982 "Combat Rock." Any artist choosing to cover a song like this walks a fine line between homage and kitsch, but Ellis pulls it off beautifully. Her arrangement cranks up the tension build/release and actually manages to come across as more urgent and aggressive than the original.

Another track venturing farm from traditional is the rough and rowdy The Complainer. This song, with its charging guitar and its succinct and constantly-repeating chorus has a definite punk aesthetic with just enough twang to keep it from being a total departure from the rest of the album.

The lead track,The Traveler, is a great example of Ellis playing with the arrangement to elevate a song. She takes an otherwise straight-forward tune and turns it into an expertly-crafted piece of dusky acoustic pop goodness with nice touches like well-placed banjo flourishes and violin accents leading into choruses. The song's refrain says, "Mile after mile, bound to look the same/Bound to look the same after a while." Although this is likely a comment on the life of the titular traveler, it can also refer to the actual album itself - a reminder to Ellis to avoid a rut by continuing to push the boundaries of her sound. Something she pulls off nicely throughout.

CDs by Betse Ellis

High Moon Order, 2013

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