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Ellen McIlwaine - "Honky Tonk Angel" (LP)

Ellen McIlwaine - "Honky Tonk Angel" (LP)

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Genre: rock
Rating: 2 stars **
Title:  Honky Tonk Angel
Company: Polydor
Catalog: PD-5021
Year: 1982
Country/State: Tennessee
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: --
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6250
Price: $15.00

History is a funny creature in that we tend to look at it as being an authorative record of things. The fact of the matter is that history is exceptionally subjective; in many cases little more than a documented popularity contest. While I'll readily admit I'm not a gigantic fan of her stylings, how else to explain singer / guitarist Ellen McIlwain'e criminal absence from the record books ?

Following the collapse of Fear Itself, McIlwaine embarked on a solo career. Signed by Polydor she made her solo debut with 1972's "Honky Tonk Angel". In an odd marketing move, the album was divided between a side of live material recorded at New York's The Bitter End, and a side of studio recordings. The five live numbers featured McIlwaine in an acoustic setting (surrounded by acoustic guitar, bass and drums). Frankly, they didn't do all that much for me. McIlwaine's voice was nice enough, though she repeatedly displayed an irritating habit of injecting nonsensical scat sequences into the lyrics. Also, with the exception of the lone side one original ('Losing You') which showcased her slide guitar, that aspect of her repertoire was large absent from the live material. On the positive side, the sound was crystal clear. The five studio tracks offered up a more varied repertoire including African folk music, English folk, and jazz-rock moves. There was no denying McIlwaine had a nice voice, but on virtually every one of these songs she displayed an irritating habit of throwing in those improvised vocals. I guess some folks may have enjoyed those vamps, but to me it was simply irritating. Again, anyone looking for a taste of McIlwaine's heralded slide guitar was going to walk away disappointed since the focus was on McIlwaine the singer.

- Initially McIlwaine's folkie cover of the Hayes-Porter soul classic 'Toe Hold' struck me as being one of the strangest version of the song I'd ever heard. To my ears it sounded like a spirited Ritchie Haven's version of the track (albeit with a better vocal). The congas were certainly irritating and McIlwaine's weird scat lyrics threw me for a loop. All those reservations aside, she really managed to generate some energy with her performance. rating: *** stars
- Penned by Jack Bruce and Peter Brown, 'Weird of Hermiston' got an equally strange pseudo-jazzy Joni Mitchell-styled arrangement. To my ears it sounded kind of droning and there wasn't much of her highly praised guitar apparent on the song. I always laugh when I hear her sing "I'm going to fune-rail ..." rating: ** stars
- Jimi Hendrix's 'Up from the Skies' gets a breezy, mildly funky acoustic feel. Decent, if hardly overwhelming. rating: ** stars
- The lone side one original, 'Losing You' finally showcased McIlwaine's guitar with some dazzling acoustic slide guitar. Lyrically there wasn't a great deal to this one - basically the title track sung over and over while she beat the hell out of her guitar. Given her introduction to track which left you expecting a slice of sensitive singer/songwriter angst, the results almost sounded like a joke ... rating: *** stars (extra star for the guitar)
- Her cover of Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode To Billy Joe' was plain strange - a mixture of Ritchie Haven's folkie moves and Joni Mitchell jazziness, but played at hyper-speed. Simply try listening to her machine gun fire vocals ... I'm not sure I could talk that fast. rating: ** stars
- With it's multi-tracked vocal, the African-inspired 'Pinebo (My Story)' was technically interesting. Imagine McIlwaine re-enacting a small village singing an African folk song. rating: ** stars
- Reinterpreting Traffic's 'Can't Find My Way Home' as a stark acoustic number was a nice move, but one have been even better if she'd left some of the empty spaces intact. Instead, McIlwaine seemingly felt a need to cram vocals into every empty space in the song. Maybe it was just me, but those improvised nonsensical vocals just drove me crazy. rating: *** stars
- While it still reminded me a bit of a Joni Mitchell song, the jazz-tinged 'Wings of a Horse' wasn't bad. McIlwaine turned in one of her better vocals (though the weird Latin-flavored scatting seemed endless). rating: *** stars
- It may have sounded authentic, but I don't like country and western and didn't like 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels'. rating: * star
- Giving credit where due, showcasing a pretty, melancholy melody and a subtle McIlwaine vocal (the scatting was kept in check), 'Wade In the Water' was probably the album's best performance. rating: *** stars

Not great, but probably enough there for me to look for some other releases in her catalog.

"Honky Tonk Angel" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Toe Hold (Isaac Hayes - David Porter) - 4:22
2.) Weird of Hermiston (Jack Bruce - Peter Brown) - 5:06
3.) Up from the Skies (Jimi Hendrix) - 4:35
4.) Losing You (Ellen McIlwaine) - 2:00
5.) Ode To Billy Joe (Bobbie Gentry) - 3:49

(side 2)
1.) Pinebo (My Story) (Guy Warren) - 2:41
2.) Can't Find My Way Home (Stevie Winwood) - 3:41
3.) Wings of a Horse (Ellen McIlwaine) - 4:20
4.) It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (J.D. Miler) - 2:38
5.) Wade In the Water (Ellen McIlwaine) - 4:50

For anyone interested, McIlwaine has a web presence at:
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