CD Conqueroo [William Lee Ellis] (CD 1047056),
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Conqueroo [William Lee Ellis]

  • 1. She Conquered the Conqueroo
    2. My Religion Too
    3. Where Should I Go
    4. How the Mighty Have Fallen
    5. Never Be the Child
    6. Northern Lights
    7. Everything Changes But You
    8. King of the Mountain
    9. Maybellene
    10. Honey Take Your Time
    11. Rider on Your Soul
    12. Black Sea Blues
    13. Rose Hill
  • Additional Info
    Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 1043

  • Credits
    ProducerLarry Nager

    Personnel: William Lee Ellis (vocals, guitar); Susan Marshall (vocals); Larry Nager (dobro, bass, washboard); Tony Ellis (violin); Rick Steff (Mellotron); The Masqueraders (background vocals).
    Principally recorded at Sun Hill Studio, Cincinnati, Ohio.
    Three years after William Lee Ellis gained the attention of the world's blues community with his stellar third album and Yellow Dog Records debut, The Full Catastrophe, he arrived on a horse of a different color. Conqueroo is a record steeped deeply in all of the traditions that have informed Ellis' musical, spiritual, and emotional lives: folk, bluegrass, prewar blues, ragtime, country gospel, and classical, and yet what comes from his guitar and voice is entirely his own. Sure, one can hear Gary Davis and Lonnie Johnson in his playing, but one can also hear Clarence White, Merle Travis, and most of all, Ellis himself in his playing. Unlike the revivalists out there, Ellis is a stylist, an original guitarist and songwriter who understands that tradition is the source of the flame but is never the fire itself -- that comes from the heart of the artist. Ellis' songs are deeply spiritual and full of street and amorous grit. Using his acoustic guitar and soulful baritone voice, he talks about virtues and vice as blessings that are forever linked inside the human heart and in the soul of the Divine. On an a cappella gospel tune such as "It's My Religion Too" with the soul/gospel quartet the Masqueraders, the mood is sacred; on the gutbucket slide blues of "Never Be the Child," it's profane; on the gorgeous folksy country of "Where Would I Go?" with father Tony's violin (the elder Ellis was a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and named William after his old boss), it's one of forlorn love; and on the spooky "Northern Lights," with the bowed bass of Larry Nager, the feel is an old Scottish love ballad of the moors, but it's far more lonesome -- and menacing. There's solid bluegrass in the mix too on "King of the Mountain," but it's graced and greased with Delta blues in its turnarounds, and then, on an amazing read of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," Ellis re-reads the original through the blues via the rag styles of Rev. Davis and Tampa Red. The tune is a duet with Reba Russell, and Nager keeps it rooted into its changes while Ellis runs all over its body with his guitar. The other duet is with Susan Marshall on "Honey Take Your Time," a bawdy little love song that makes the feet shuffle and the backbone slip involuntarily. The last three tracks -- "Rider on Your Soul," "Black Sea Blues," and "Rose Hill" -- are Ellis ripping it up on lap and steel guitars, playing the living hell out of it, singing about damnation and deliverance as if the Devil arrived on the doorstep at the same time Jesus did and you have to choose between them though they look the same. While The Full Catastrophe was a brilliant blues record and deserved its accolades, Conqueroo is in an entirely different league. This is a fully realized project that distills American music to its essence and creates something from them that bears Ellis' distinct image. Not since the late John Campbell has there been a blues talent so original, though his vision is not as haunted or hunted. Ellis proves that not only are the blues not dead or a relic, but a morally instructive, sensually delightful art form whose possibilities have only begun to be mined for what they might contain for the future. This disc deserves the W.C. Handy Award for Album of the Year in 2003. ~ Thom Jurek

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