What just a great little country record this is, with one solid song after another that’s well-written, well-performed, and delivered with heart. It proves that when it comes to actual country music, you don’t have to push the envelope or reinvent the wheel every time to turn in something worthy of hearing. Just write and sing songs of life with honesty, and the simple beauty of country music will do the rest.
Elijah Ocean is a journeyman country music artists if there ever was one. For years he played bass in touring bands for others, writing and performing his own songs when he could, unselfishly waiting for his time to shine. Though his compass has always pointed towards country, he’s dabbled in more folk and roots rock, and California country too as he’s quietly carved out his own little space and career in the music world.
But along with a recent permanent move to Nashville comes this album where Ocean doubles down on his country roots, taking lessons from the hundreds of country covers he’s played over the years in dive bars and casino lounges while based out of Los Angeles. Now he’s ready to lend his own words and music to the country music legacy in a purely honky tonk, neotraditional effort.
Born Blue was supposed to be produced by none other than multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan who’s best known for playing behind Dwight Yoakam. That would be a big name to back up this project, but apparently during the recording process, Elijah wasn’t enjoying the direction things were headed and took the reigns himself. That’s a pretty big decision. But however we got here, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Elijah assembled some thirty songs to start, eventually whittling them down to the 12 of Born Blue, with each reminding you of some timeless classic country tune, while also hitting the theme from an original angle. Love, heartbreak, divorce; you’ll cut a rug to “Honky Tonk Hole” and “Thirty-Five,” and weep over “In a Perfect World” and “Born Blue.” “The Ice Machine” has an intro indicative of “Neon Moon,” and will put you smack dab in a cheap motel room with shag brown carpet and fake wood paneling from 1990.
All phases and facets of classic country music are represented here, a rainbow of emotions are expressed, and it all sounds and feels just like the country music you love. The mood and music of each song is seamless with the story, and along with the other entertaining aspects of Born Blue, it’s a great time capsule to a better and more enviable time period in the country genre.
Not trying to reshape the paradigm of country music, and understanding that it doesn’t need to “evolve” to be resonant and relevant is what makes an album like Born Blue so remarkable. Elijah Ocean has spent years being the other guy on the stage. With Born Blue, he proves why he’s deserving of the spotlight himself.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Born Blue on Bandcamp