When questioned about his musical heroes as younger artist, Mark Erelli would dutifully rattle off names like Jackson Browne and John Hiatt—the sort of emotionally literate lyricist and soulful vocalist to which he was oft-compared. But Erelli would always throw the interviewer a curveball by also listing musicians like David Lindley and Ry Cooder, two sidemen closely associated with Browne and Hiatt’s best albums. “As a teenager I sat in front of my stereo for hours, in hopes of learning to write songs like that,” remembers Erelli, “but I also tried to learn the guitar solos on those records note for note.”
Thousands of musical miles later, Mark Erelli now travels his own road that both embodies and challenges our expectations of a singer/songwriter. Erelli has tackled everything from western swing and protest songs to lullabies and murder ballads, all in a richly expressive voice that Twangville.com heralds as “the male counterpart to Neko Case.” It is a journey that has taken Erelli from church basement coffeehouses to the main stage of the Newport Folk Festival, stopping briefly along the way to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park.
Erelli still indulges that teenage fascination with the guitar solos, though it has evolved into a career as an in-demand multi-instrumentalist sideman. These days, fans are just as likely to find Erelli backing up Lori McKenna at the Grand Ole Opry, or Josh Ritter at London’s Royal Albert Hall, as they are to see a solo acoustic performance at venerable listening rooms like Harvard Square’s Club Passim. Some might see chasing both a timeless lyric and an exquisite lap steel guitar solo as mutually exclusive endeavors, but not Erelli.
“Every time I accompany a great songwriter, I have the best seat in the house,” Erelli explains. “I see how these amazing artists connect with their songs and their audiences from a unique vantage point. For me, every sideman gig is a Master Class, and it makes me a better musician and songwriter.”
We caught up with Erelli in January 2016, just as he was about to release his 10th solo release, “For A Song.”
Recorded and filmed by Beehive Productions in Saranac Lake, NY.
This program is available for viewing either with a Roots Channel subscription or as a standalone purchase.
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