New York City’s Jay Elle opens his latest studio release with its title song “Ease Up (Into Love)”. His fluid guitar playing sets an eloquent and mellow melodic tone for the song seconds in and the production captures the ensemble performance with the right fidelity and punch. Elle wears a well-deserved reputation for one of the indie scene’s best songwriters in modern country. His seamless blending of pop structures and influence into a traditional form imbues his songwriting with an audible lilt it wouldn’t otherwise possess. His plaintive vocals are full of feeling without seeming overwrought and there is a smattering of light backing vocals embellishing the performance with added sensitivity.
“Take a Holiday” is a odd but charming bird. Elle weaves a blue strand into his songwriting tapestry with this arrangement. The slide guitar isn’t omnipresent, but gives “Take a Holiday” understated gritty flavor missing from the title song. Contrasting this quality, however, are the clear echoes Jimmy Buffett reverberating throughout the song. It isn’t much of a stress to label this track as a sly and loving Buffett pastiche. It is a clear live favorite in the offing.
Another vocalist making his presence felt on Elle is Warren Zevon. Shave off some of Zevon’s light nasal sound and you have a close approximation of the now deceased singing/songwriting legend. This influence is clear on the third cut “Needs Fixing”, but Elle fills the song with earnest warmth and hopefulness Zevon seldom embraced. “Need Fixing” has an ambling mid-tempo pace and casts a low key spell over listeners.
Ease Up takes a darker lyrical turn for “By the Blade”, but let’s make clear “darker” is relative. Elle is too much of a polished songwriter to mire listeners in despair; the songs on this release are intelligent and serious, but Elle’s desire to entertain remains clear throughout. It juxtaposes acoustic instruments with metronomic electronic percussion; this song will be a different beast live than its studio version.
“Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One)” plants its flag deep in full on pop music territory. It builds from a spartan opening to a near ethereal chorus and mixes electronic and traditional instruments in a quiet and unassuming way. He understands the value of nuance even in commercial pop; a single power chord added a few times during the song pumps up its dramatic power. “Sickly Sweet” concludes Ease Up with a light narrative and a dollop of character portrait. It’s one of Elle’s best songs written for the release. The fragile acoustic gait of the track generates deceptive energy; these are songs whose effects accumulate rather than steamrolling listeners with a handful of moments.
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Jay Elle’s latest EP release is a satisfying collection from beginning to end. It reaffirms his gifts for composing songs with wide appeal and advances his art one step further into the future. These are songs with potential to play well live thanks to arrangements that will transition to stage with a minimum of fuss. Ease Up doesn’t scream or beat its chest; it doesn’t have to. It speaks to listeners from the heart and earns your trust.