“Hope and Other Casualties”
Mark Erelli departs from his chameleon-like ways with this effort, which should please fans that latched on to his eponymous 1999 debut, and the brilliant follow-up, “Compass & Companion.”. Despite the title, this is an optimistic work. “Here Now” imagines a time when “there’s no cracks to fall between.” Much of “Hope & Other Casualties” is light and easy, with multi-instrumentalist Erelli’s considerable chops evident throughout. Ultimately, his musicianship redeems a somewhat uneven record.
“The Only Way” is a rally-round-the-rainbow call to arms that evokes 9/11, with a lively beat and good harmonica playing. It falls flat, however, with lines like “it’s too much to swallow/it’s left me hollow.”
He’s on firmer ground evoking shipwreck tales on “Evening’s Curtain,” and railing against social injustice in the indignant “Seeds of Peace.” “Imaginary War” is a lovely elegy to bygone small town life, reminiscent of John Gorka’s “Houses in the Fields,” but with a bright innocence that’s missing from that song’s somber tone.
“Snowed In” is a nicely winterized romantic song, and the Greg Brown shuffle “Undone” is equally pleasant, but neither registers with any particular force. “God Loves Everyone,” clunky and earnest, should have been left off entirely. Better to have “Hope’s” penultimate track, the gorgeous, gospel-tinged “Passing Through,” and its’ declaration, “I refuse to let my hope become the latest casualty,” be the record’s final resonating thought.
“Hartfordtown 1944” is this disc’s understated masterpiece. A musical retelling of true events vividly recounted in Stewart O’Nan’s “The Circus Fire,” it begins so jauntily it seems ripped from a Raffi record. But he’s describing a tragedy, forever etched on his hometown’s consciousness. The harrowing line, “some remembered how the animals cried/but there weren’t any animals inside,” hits like an abrupt gut-punch. It’s Mark Erelli at his evocative best.