It makes perfect sense that William Lee Ellis is on the same label with Mark Lemhouse. The two are basically cast in much the same mold: highly eclectic purveyors of a spectrum of roots-based musics, gents who can perform immaculately in or out of genre. In Conqueroo, Ellis vends a dauntingly crafted dozen+ cuts of gospel (My Religion Too), near-Claptony acoustic heartache (Where Would I Go?), bayou blues slur and sway (Everything Changes but You), and much more.
Like his compeer, Ellis has his preferences. Where Lemhouse sticks closer to the road, to the grit and tooth of things, Ellis takes a folkier approach. His version of Maybelline is a good deal more blues-folksy than Berry's original, but there's a little secret here: Ellis is the godson and namesake of the legendary Bill Monroe and the son of world-famed Tony Ellis, thus the guy has a lineage, one that includes in the mountains of Appalachia alongside the darksome bayous of the South, and, thus, he escorts the namesake of Berry's song back to her grittier origins. Honey Take Your Leave is a country and western layback with mountain tangs ending as a folky jaunt. Then, of course, there's the jitterbuggin' Rider on Your Soul and its grasshopper slide burning through the tall grass alongside Larry Nager's righteous tappity washboard.
All the cuts on Conqueroo are exceptionally deceptive, claiming only a few players on each yet filled to the brim with excellent musicianship so absorbing that you never notice the spare roster. Ellis is a master of his craft and makes the whole thing seem effortless while daunting. Didn't hurt, either, that he signed to the riveting Yellow Dog label, which has perfectionist ways and an intense love of roots 'n blues. Somewhere, Unka Bill Monroe is smiling from ear to ear.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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