James Ellsworth’s new album is an eclectic confection, an ambitious project that combines traditional arrangements with a whimsical sense of humor and fantastical flourishes plus a range of influences that stretches across centuries.
At its heart, Flinging Woo is a folk record, with arrangements built around core instrumentation that prominently features acoustic guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.
But it sometimes reaches much more broadly than a bare-bones traditional style, bringing in an extensive string section (including Dan Dickerson’s harp). Underneath the Americana lurks more modern influences, such as prog rock (“Disguised”) and melodramatic ’70s pop (“Frown on the Moon”).
True to the spirit of folk music, Ellsworth doesn’t shy away from making political and social statements, touching on anxieties — political, environmental, and more — that are an unavoidable part of today’s America. Ellsworth, however, pushes the statements toward the fantastic, as “Opposable Thumb (A Xenophobe’s Dream)” envisions a border wall that will keep out trolls, Smurfs, and other mythical creatures. “Tornado Alley” describes a hostile climate as a hellfire-driven apocalypse.
Sometimes the whimsy is more light-hearted, as on the spritely instrumental “Twitterpated,” which draws its title from Disney’s Bambi.
The autobiography of the title is hinted at in “Morpheus Cat” and its album-ending companion track “Fizzgigg’s Leap.” These laundry lists of experiences are folky versions of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and they trace the boundaries of the kind of life that could reasonably produce an album as rich as Flinging Woo.
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