Hillbilly Pilgrim

Mark Erelli

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Hillbilly Pilgrim Review

by Joe Viglione

Hillbilly Pilgrim is an accurate title from Western, MA, country-rock singer Mark Erelli as the fiddle on the opening track, "Brand New Baby," as well as the guitars on "Pretend" make the material fit for a hootenanny. There's no denying the musicianship, or heart, though the singer is still in search of an identity as it could be any decent band playing at said hootenanny. "A Bend in the River" is pleasant enough -- and is one of the disc's better tracks -- but musical neighbors the Swinging Steaks do this kind of country ballad with more authority, which is the problem with this disc. Vocal appearances by Kris Delmhorst and Mark Armerding on "Pilgrim Highway" as well as Erin McKeown on "Pretend" add something special to the album, though it is Erelli's statement all the way, and without sufficient wings to fly he sometimes falls. The self-indulgence on "Let's Make a Family" or Clarence Gibson's "Troubles" are cases in point. Here the artist inadvertently brings in the cringe factor. Sometimes too much sincerity can be just plain goofy. The sentiment in "My Best Was Just Not Good Enough" is your typical down-on-his-luck country lament, pleasant country & western executed well, but without the innovations a quirky tongue-in-cheek ensemble like Boston's Country Bumpkins always managed to add to the mix. Polly Matheson co-writes "Fool No. 1" with Mark and at times -- as on this track -- he comes off like a '30s male crooner from a big band fronting a pickup group at a square dance. "Pilgrim Highway," on the other hand, is a home run. Gospel/folk with a level of seriousness that delivers the goods. It's evidence that Erelli has what it takes, but has to dig a little deeper.

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