Owen Thomas: Vocals, Guitar
Christopher Thomas: Drums, Vocals
Nathan W. Bennett: Bass, Vocals
Thomas Daugherty: Guitar, Vocals
THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE: a superbly fitting title for the fourth album from THE ELMS, the Indiana-born quartet who have become torchbearers for modern American rock & roll since their inception early in the new millennium. They build solidly upon a tradition that stretches from The Band to The Heartbreakers, with deep roots in the muddy working soul of their home country. They’ve also always fortuitously engaged the musical sweet spot of honoring the past while living in and embracing the present.
A large part of what makes THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE so compelling is that it’s certainly no fluke. The album represents the culmination of nearly 8 years of ambitious, steady work by THE ELMS and reflects directly who the band are as both musicians and active, engaged citizens. Natives of Seymour, Indiana -- perhaps best-known as the birthplace of John Mellencamp -- THE ELMS formed in 2001, releasing two albums and performing 400 shows before seeing 2005 lead to a major-label contract with Universal South Records, who released the critically-acclaimed The Chess Hotel in 2006. THE ELMS supported The Chess Hotel with extensive touring that found them sharing stages in the U.S. and Europe with artists as diverse as Band of Horses, Shooter Jennings, the Fratellis, Switchfoot, Goo Goo Dolls and Buddy Guy, a good indication of the band’s wide appeal and refusal to fit into any niche categories. Their idols have taken notice: no less than Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp invited the group personally to play Farm Aid when they rolled their annual benefit festival into Boston in 2008.
What’s striking about THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE is its rich resonance, how the band's songwriting has deepened, and how the rest of THE ELMS – Owen's percussionist brother Christopher, guitarist Thomas Daugherty, and bassist Nathan Bennett – rise adeptly to interpretive challenges. The band assures that the record's blues-heavy bombast ("Strut", "The Shake") exists properly against its deep, emotional turns ("The Wildest Heart", "The Little Ways") while embracing their pop sensibilities with simple yet huge hooks (“County Fair”, “Back to Indiana”). And at the album's most vulnerable, as in the closing track "A Place In The Sun," unguarded sentiments of the working everyman emerge:
"I sit in the willows, my hat on my knee.
There's a man in my shoes where a boy used to be.
I'm wore-out and weary, but before my time's done
I need to find me a place in the sun."
THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE is tied together through vivid lyrical themes and its sound, which is the most coalesced of any of THE ELMS' work to date. Spirited melodies, brazen riffs, and tightly-knit rhythms assemble throughout the album, which was co-produced and recorded by the band and longtime friend Brent Milligan at Warner Bros. Studios in Nashville. THE ELMS entered a dream scenario post-recording, with engineer Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age) handling final mix duties. Owen explains the process: "Adam mixes songs quickly, even when he doesn't necessarily need to. He just works very instinctively. I'd sign off on a mix, go down the street to get a sandwich, come back, and he'd have another one ready to listen to." As a result, the songs are thrilling and alive, containing raw performance energy coupled with the finesse of finely-detailed production sensibilities. Finally, the album was mastered by industry legend Bob Ludwig, who has performed similar tasks for the Rolling Stones, U2, The Who, REM, and scores of other rock luminaries.
Appropriately, THE ELMS aren’t content to rest on tradition. they build upon it, bringing their fans in closer to release THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE in innovative fashion via their own brand-new TRUST Incorporated label. "The challenge of putting together our own ideas for releasing music is one that energizes me," says Owen. "It just seemed that we didn't identify with traditional labels anymore as it pertains to progressive things we want to do, primarily in the way of the distribution and mapping our own ideas for incentivizing digital music. There will be various interpretations of the album, different digital incarnations that are just incongruent with record label thought, and that's fine." Fans who purchase the album digitally through the band’s website (TheElms.net) will be offered a "complete" version of the album – not simply a collection of demos, but an entirely acoustic interpretation of the whole album set of 12 songs, for a total of 24 audio tracks. Many bands would serve up perfunctory alternate takes, doing no more than the situation requires, but THE ELMS go above and beyond the call of duty here, as they always do.
With THE ELMS and their music feeling more purposed than ever, there couldn't be a more promising time for the band's breakout moment to arrive. When their intentions are most evident, like in the thunderous chorus of "This Is How The World Will End", it is obvious that THE ELMS are not afraid to ask us all to join them in going above and beyond:
"Bring a chair up to the table, bring a message to the crowd.
Where's a common trust to deliver us from the wretched and the proud?
Sing a tune about the promise. Speak on that which we depend.
And if a certain light don't shine again, baby, this is how the world will end."
Again, a reflection of the band's big, resilient heart: a heart that beats bold and strong on THE GREAT AMERICAN MIDRANGE.