January 19, 2006

Private Eleanor "No Straight Lines"

Making a great first impression is essential. A great case in point is this band Private Eleanor, from Baltimore. About this time last year, I received a Cd-R from some label in Maryland. It was a promotional copy of a 'limited edition' release, featuring two musicians. The theory of this record was simple: record a 'side' of a split LP release in one session. This is exactly what this disc was: two long tracks, both of which contained numerous songs. It was like a live recording session. It was...okay. Nothing special. In fact, at the time, I felt it to be a little less than special. It just sounded like a guy who liked Elliott Smith and who wanted to be Elliott Smith, except for the being dead part. It wasn't "bad," but it was rough-sounding. It didn't help that it was impossible to go back to songs and check them out again, without having to fast-forward. 'Definitely a reason it's on a Cd-R,' was my mindset, and I placed it in the pile, to be forgotten.

At some point in the past three or four months, a CD by a band called Private Eleanor found a comfortable place next to my computer. I never listened to it, partially because I am swamped, but its neglect is due in no small part to that disc from earlier this year. After all, I didn't like the first experience, so why would I like it now? Yes, that's prejudiced thinking, but that's my honest opinion, and I can guarantee you that such prejudices do motivate music writers. It’s really nothing personal; it's simply the reality of the situation.

Well, flash ahead to a few days ago. I was bored, strung out on pain medication, and I wanted to listen to something, and I decided that maybe I should give this Private Eleanor a listen-to.

Well, to best describe what happened next, I should try to put it into perspective.

Private Eleanor, circa that previous release, had only been a one-man band posing under a 'band' moniker. (That’s a major pet peeve of mine, to be honest. get a band, damn you. or at least some help that's not YOU. because nine times out of ten, you're not good enough to play all the instruments yourself.)

Private Eleanor, circa this new album, entitled No Straight Lines, is a sextet.

Let’s just say there's a big difference between the two! The main man behind the band is a fellow named Austin, and yes, he sounds like Elliott Smith, but with a full-band backing him, it's not quite as obvious (or noxious). But instead of the Private Eleanor I'd heard before, I'm hearing a full-sounding band, one that's much more confident in its compositional abilities, and it's a band that's much richer in tone than before. I hear traces of Wilco, Elliott Smith, and, just because it's fresh in my mind, Tarkio, Colin Meloy's pre-Decemberists alt-country band. Occasionally the songs sound tinny and lo-fi, but for the most part, this album is a full, rich affair, especially considering how he has a band now to give him a bigger sound. It’s a great little record for a Saturday evening. I really recommend them. The one-two-three punch of "Babe Ruth," "Bed of Nails” and “Estimated Distance" will win you over; I'm especially fond of "Bed of Nails," because it is, for lack of a better term, sexy. But most of all, Private Eleanor's a great sounding band that would sound good in a bar or a coffee house. (I'm sure their music is found in both environments in their hometown of Baltimore.)

First impressions. They’re important.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.privateeleanor.com
Label Website: http://www.thebeechfields.com

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