Circle the Wagons
It’s been four and a half years since James Ellsworth & the Dynasorrows released Heart on Sleeve, a collection of songs tracing Ellsworth’s breakup with his former girlfriend. As breakup records go, Heart on Sleeve surely ranks with Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Beck’s Sea Change. (Everyone has their own list, of course. Though universal, breakups and the albums that people sob over are very personal.)
After Heart on Sleeve, Ellsworth and his Dynasorrows became Clusterfolk, a name that better suits band’s diffuse style and influences. With Circle the Wagons, which comes out October 1, Clusterfolk cleave musically to the template of the earlier release but abandon glorious misery in favor of hope, oddballs, canines and cowboys.
The disc starts off with “Dusk,” one of four instrumentals on the record, a short song that serves nicely as a prelude to “Circle the Wagons.” The title cut opens with Ellsworth playing a rolling guitar riff that churns up images of dusty Conestoga wagons jostling across the prairie. A fiddle (courtesy of Sean Hoffman) glides in momentarily, and the tension builds as the playing slows to a few strums per measure.
The lyrics tell of the aftermath of relationship gone bad. The suffering has peaked and it’s buck-up time, pardner. When Ellsworth sings “I’m gonna circle the wagons / and shore up my heart / I’ll drown my dreams and dragons / and conjure a new start,” you just know the storm is over and better days are here.
Nearly all of the elements that make Clusterfolk such a unique band appear in the title cut: Duane Eby’s spectral acoustic guitar work, with his brilliant E-bow and effects use, hovers and swoops. Dave Kartholl provides a yeoman’s acoustic bass line throughout most of the song, a fitting clip-clop. Sarah Ellsworth handles backing vocals and percussive elements with aplomb.
The departure of Dan Halferty a year or so ago left Clusterfolk bereft of a drummer, but through well-placed handclaps, shakers, mouth noises and a frame drum here and there, the percussion manages to fill in all the right spots. The end of “Circle the Wagons” opens into free-form psychedelia. Kartholl’s bass quickens, Eby soars off, Hoffman works his bow and Ellsworth keeps it all tied together. I didn’t want the jam to end, and live the band could easily stretch it out indefinitely if the mood were to strike.
Ellsworth is an inventive lyricist, to say the least. On songs such as “Never Kill What You Can’t Eat,” “Meth Lab Dog” and “Mongo Floyd” (with Susie Suraci on accordion), his interesting take on practical philosophy, tweakers and ill-fated excursions is always entertaining. “Never Kill” features Kartholl’s nimble mandolin playing, a treat found on the band’s recordings but rarely during live gigs, where he sticks to the bass.
Inis Mor” sent me to the Internet to find out that Inis Mor is the largest of the Aran islands in Galway Bay near Ireland. The Celtic lilt is spot-on. Joyce Fry’s light hammer dulcimer touch adds further authenticity to the tune.
“Meth Lab Dog” is simultaneously hilarious, sad and threatening. “Well he’s wild-eyed / Bones and skin / He looks just like his master / Lean, mean, scarred and singed / A meth lab dog disaster.” The songs hits like it should. Eby cranks up the distortion and Hoffman menaces with his fiddle.
Sarah Ellsworth takes over the lead vocals on “It’s Not Enough” and shines in the spotlight. Her voice is bell-clear and delivers the exasperation of the lyrics with certitude. Elements of her voice bring to mind Natalie Merchant’s finer moments.
“Odd Sounds at Midnight” is another instrumental ditty, with Jon Gillespie sitting in on the harpsichord.
The 16 tracks on Circle the Wagons reveal a band well into its stride. Heart on Sleeve is an exceptional record and a tough act to follow, but with Circle the Wagons Ellsworth and Clusterfolk confirm that their first release was no fluke. The songs are strong and the playing, as always, is outstanding.
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Tessa Lark w/Peter Klimo — Classical at Arts Place, Portland, 7:30 p.m., $8-$18, 726-4809
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Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at 469 Sports & Spirits, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 749-7207
Open Jam — Hosted by G-Money at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
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Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Variety at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
41st High School Exhibition — Student art from Great Lakes region high schools, daily thru March 19, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
An Exploration of Perspective — Multimedia works by Deborah Robinson Miller, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild March Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru March 31, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday, March 5-April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Liberations of Line & Matter — Digital works by Adam Meyer, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Maurice Keltsch Art Collection — Works from the collection of the late pharmacist and patron of Fort Wayne arts, daily thru March 19 , Goldfish Gallery, Rolland Arts Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-8064
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26 , Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Overlapping in the Proximity of the Sublime — Works by Ashley Beatty, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Semantic Sequences — Exhibition of letterpress prints by Stephanie Carpenter, assistant director of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Student Highlights Exhibition: 3D — Works from students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts’ 3D studio art program, daily thru March 19, John P. Weatherhead Gallery and Goldfish Gallery, Mimi and Ian Rolland Art and Visual Communication Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Tim Brumbeloe Retrospective — A retrospective of local photographer’s works over the past 25 years, Monday-Friday thru March 17, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Artlink Educational Programs — Art classes offered by Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, dates and times vary, Artlink, Fort Wayne, fees vary, 424-7195
Fort Wayne Dance Collective Workshops — Workshops and classes for movement, dance, yoga and more offered by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, dates and times vary, Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Fort Wayne, fees vary, 424-6574
IPFW Community Arts Academy— Art, dance, music and theater classes for grades pre-K through 12 offered by IPFW College of Visual and Performing Arts, fees vary, 481-6977, www.ipfw.edu/caa
Sweetwater Academy of Music — Private lessons for a variety of instruments available from professional instructors, ongoing weekly lessons, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, call for pricing, 432-8176, academy.sweetwater.com
Tincture Trivia — Trivia night for teams of 4 or 6 people, 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays, Nick’s Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, free, 482-6425
Watercolor Instruction — Artist Tom De Somer of De Somer Fine Art Studio offers watercolor painting instruction 6:30-8:30 p.m. the first four Thursdays of each month, Indiana Wesleyan University, Fort Wayne, $144/four-week course, 805-328-8336, www.desomerart.com/classes