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Music Review - `Rambler Pacifico` by Matt Ellis (jh)

Matt Ellis - Rambler Pacifico

29 March 2019



This is the sixth album for Australian, now Southern Californian resident Matt Ellis. Ellis cut his teeth in his native Sydney, where he became a well-recognized indie artist before relocating to California where he has resided since 2005. He’s developed quite a network of musical friends as attested to by the 23 musicians who receive credits on Rambler Pacifico.

The title is appropriate as the recording process was essentially a stream of roots consciousness that was built in layers. It’s almost as if a kid built a house with Legos, invited his neighborhood pals over, and before long there was a city. Said another way, it’s as if Ellis and friends wanted to include enough different sounds to assure them of pop, rock, and Americana airplay. In that sense, it’s rather timeless. This music could just as easily come from the country-rock era of Chris Hillman and Stephen Stills in their Manassas days, yet the subject matter is very much social and contemporary for the most part. The jangling guitars throughout, however, give it a throw-back feel too. There’s even a Byrd-like 12-string electric guitar on “Heading Home.”

Recording began with Ellis and his longtime drummer, Fernando Sanchez mulling through a series of riffs Ellis had been accumulating since “The Greatest Escape” shows in 2016. Ellis’s core band members then began building off the drum track at Ellis’ home studio, a converted garage. Australian engineer Lewis Fordham stepped in as the layering process began. I wasn’t enough to have a core band of five players, some of whom like Nick Luca (Calexico, Devotchka) were multi-instrumentalists. Ellis tapped friends who were traveling through town to add harmonica, lap steel, accordion, and mandolin, as well as additional guitars. If we were to list all the names here, it would be dizzying.

Ellis says this, “Going in, I didn’t have any finished songs or lyrics, but I didn’t want to lose momentum either. I wanted to get back in the studio and try a different approach to recording. I was confident I could place a bet on a guitar part and melody, and I had faith lyrics would present themselves down the line. We were free to experiment, and the clock never ran out. It was an indulgence I hadn’t experienced in the studio before, and I took full advantage of it.”

Naturally, every song is not a gem, but several do stand out. The opening “Isolationist Blues” is a country-rock rouser about the cold war in a relationship. The single “Some People”  is a memorable melodic tune. The mid-tempo, partly acoustic “Oh, My Magnolia” was recorded when Matt and his wife, Vavine, discovered they were having a baby girl, Magnolia. Vavine, as she’s done on other Ellis albums, adds her vocals, this time when she was 39 weeks pregnant.

The rocking “The Kids of America’” was written in support of the teenagers behind the #NeverAgain movement, political action for gun control. Another standout, rather surprisingly, is the cover of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer,” featuring the lovely voice of Kam Franklin of The Suffers. Her voice blends terrifically with Ellis as they take a laid-back, country-rock take on the anthem.

The various instrumentation and variety of the material makes this album worth replaying multiple times. You’ll likely hear something new each time.


Jim Hynes



Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.





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