After calling time on the Five O’Clock Heroes, AJ Ellis’ first solo album finds him of contemplative singer-songwriter vintage, blessed with a warm baritone and a knack for penning catchy adult-oriented pop. At its best, ‘Bury the Devil’ evokes the work of Lloyd Cole or Roddy Frame, or even a Robyn Hitchcock shorn of the surreal. This polished, uncluttered LP is a good-natured body of work: the cheerful calypso-soul of ‘Stand Up’ and the all-go-to-the-hoppish country skiffle of ‘Dance All Night’, for example, offer an upbeat bed for lyrics that seem to have been written by a man coming to terms with emotional commitment. Ellis unearths the odd ear worm with the likes of the jangly ‘Isambard’, on which he engineers a lovely bridge-chorus combo, and LITM’s favourite, ‘I Belong To You’, perhaps the most complete pop tune here, from its smooth rimshot’n’harmonics opening through a celebratory chorus to the searing guitar solo. Morphing from subdued soul man on ‘Hit the Bottom’ to honky-tonk crooner on the title track, on which he determines to ditch those demons for good, Ellis can be a hard man to pigeonhole. That this New Yorker’s debut was recorded in Yorkshire, mixed in Nashville and mastered in Kentucky may go some way to explaining why there’s no defining influence here, no real sense of place or scene, other than vague Americana, to tag this collection with. But its easy listening feel is of universal appeal and stands or falls on the strength of the tunes, most of which, appropriate to ‘Bury the Devil’’s theme, get better with familiarity.
Bury the Devil is out on 28 July on Ragtime Records.
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