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Charles Ellsworth blossoms as a narrative songwriter

Last updated on March 11, 2021

NYC has become a modern country music mecca, with the likes of Zephaniah OHora and Jason Patrick Meyers growing the city’s often harsh musical landscape. Now firmly rooted in Brooklyn, Charles Ellsworth’s Honeysuckle Summer via Burro Borracho Records continues the trend of some of my favorite country artists blossoming in the Big Apple.

My introduction to Arizona native Ellsworth came through his role as bassist with the indie folk-rock act Alaska and Me. Its 2008 debut EP I Will Die in the West shot up the charts after its release garnered national attention. But Alaska and Me suffered band implosion, disbanding only a year later. This dream-shattering disappointment mixed with the classic country and Mormon hymns Ellsworth was raised on to influence his musical development. From there, he began a prolific songwriter spree. After making solo and collaborative work in Salt Lake City, Ellsworth built up to national and international touring (Australia!) before uprooting and heading east. 

Following his solo album Cesárea (2017) and the collaborative Rose Door EP with Matt C. White (2018), Honeysuckle Summer brought together fellow Brooklyn musicians Jared Schapker (Grandpa Jack) and Blake Suben (Dirty Bird) in Philadelphia’s Headroom Studio with Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Algernon Cadwallader). 

Opener “Gripping Into Water” seems a perfect fall into this baptism. Ellsworth makes a balancing act between Americana and rock, as the rich sonic textures are perfectly mixed so that each note resonates. Ellsworth’s fierce respect for craftsmen like Jason Isbell, Tom Waits, and Johnny Cash shows in his skill as lyricist and storyteller. Life’s dark truths seem easier to swallow when delivered via uptempo country instrumentation, easy vocal tone, and careful lyrical contradictions.

“Blessed” touches that introspective place that made our country strong. Ellsworth wraps a visceral emotional streak into the shining “Laundromat” via stellar guitar work. Life’s narratives breathe in songs like this, as the songs become turning points in the process of connecting the dots of our soul. “A White Cross On A Highway” fully embraces metaphor-driven storytelling in its pathway towards rebirth, while the haunted “Miami, AZ” revisits an area of Arizona left behind. Heading towards the end of the record, “Blood in The Halls” lands with satisfying accuracy. Angry, ripping rock calls out the obsession our country seems to have with the right to bear arms over the right to just be. 

Closer “Trouble” is like finishing a great book with the protagonist readers have grown to love. Stark, yet immersive textures create an incredible experience on this final cut.  This record’s eight songs document a troubadour’s journey from his original stomping grounds to his new home (physically and mentally). Charles Ellsworth’s Honeysuckle Summer soars as he blossoms as both a man and narrative songwriter.–Lisa Whealy