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Ash Wednesday

Elvis Perkins

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Album Review

Son of actor Anthony Perkins, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992, and photographer Berry Berenson, who was killed in the September 11 attacks, Elvis Perkins has plenty of material about which to write, and plenty, if he wanted, to make his debut, Ash Wednesday, a bleak affair. But while the album is certainly not uplifting, filling its 11 songs with their fair share of heartache and loneliness, Perkins avoids reveling in depression and instead follows the route that other singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and Bob Dylan have put down before him, telling detail-driven stories of people and life ("...your cameras caught me crying as I left your gates/...your maintenance men, they caught our last embrace") rather than painful confessions. With a voice that hesitates between David Gray's and Thom Yorke's, he sings songs of desperation and reflection and love and sadness over strummed acoustic guitar chords and slow drums; he's earnest and afflicted but not verklempt, only occasionally rising into an affecting yet controlled cry. Instead, Perkins shows emotion in nuance. He's a careful, studied songwriter, relying on subtlety to convey his meaning, meaning that is revealed better — almost counterintuitively — when he breaks free from the man-with-guitar mold (found in the unmemorable "It's a Sad World After All") and flirts with more complex arrangements, like in the Rufus Wainwright-esque "Sleep Sandwich," which brings vibraphone, trumpet, tympani, and violin to Perkins' steel strings, and swells gently, pushing past folk into lightly orchestral pop. "While You Were Sleeping," the strongest track on the album, slowly adds instruments until the end is only distantly related to the beginning of the piece, and it's lyrically excellent, the singer moving in the A-section to the B-section; from talking to the sleeper to talking about himself ("I'll never catch up to you who sleeps so sound/My yawns are useless, my heart beats too loud") dropping into minor chords to complement the change, to highlight the sadness. But there's a kind of redemption in the face of the sorrow found on Ash Wednesday. "Come lay here beside me/And I'll fear no death/I'll give you my body/And I'll breathe your breath," Perkins sighs on the closer, "Good Friday." It's not an assurance of happiness, but it is an offer of hope, so that despite all that's happened, there's possibility for reprieve. Coming from a man who experienced so much before he hit thirty, this is probably as much an encouragement as we'll get, and that's got to be enough.

Customer Reviews

Just as I was about to switch off !!!

For so long now I've avoided singer/songwriter albums like rabies but it's amazing what you can find if you take that lucky dip. Even tho' they're moslty ballads, each song is completely unique and dare I say it... beautiful. At last some chill music you can actually listen to without wishing them a serious illness to perk them up! Not since Grant Lee Buffalo have I... etc etc.

elvis

I saw them support CYHSY in early feb, and they just blew me away. The range of instruments used as well as the song quality is just refreshing to hear. You need to buy this to appreciate how good this album is. words cannot describe it!

See this band live.

I saw these guys supporting Willy Mason and it was an amazing night, as the first reviewer notes they get through a whole range of instruments (and musicians) in their set. They also have a lot of fun on the stage and there is a tremendous energy that the band share. Definitely buy this album but to fully appreciate them you need to see them live as well. They are the first support band that has ever made me impulse buy their album at a gig.

Biography

Born: 09 February 1976 in Manhattan, New York, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

While Elvis Perkins' folk music has earned comparisons to the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, he is also known as the son of actor Anthony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson. Raised in Los Angeles and New York, he started playing guitar in high school and took lessons from Prescott Niles of the Knack. Perkins played in rock bands and learned classical guitar, but his forte became folk, and the unexpected deaths of his parents (his father died of AIDS in 1992, and his mother perished in...
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Ash Wednesday, Elvis Perkins
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