All songs written and arranged by Randy Ellefson, copyright 2010 Randy Ellefson (ASCAP), except “Dee”, written by Randy Rhoads, copyright 1980 Cromwell Music Inc. Obo Essex Music International Inc.
Randy Ellefson – 6 and 12-string acoustic guitar, classical guitar, electric and acoustic bass, keyboards, percussion, some drums on “Homecoming” and “The Gift”
Jeff Moos – drums
Released September 14, 2010 by Guitarosity Records (indie).
Produced by Randy Ellefson
Guitars and bass engineered by Randy Ellefson at The Firebard Studios, Maryland
Drums and percussion engineered by Drew Mazurek at High View Studios, Maryland
Mixed by Randy Ellefson and Drew Mazurek at High View Studios, Baltimore Maryland
Mastered by Drew Mazurek
Artwork and layout by Randy Ellefson
Photography by Ellen Cohan
Blog Critics, Music
by David Bowling, February 2011
Randy Ellefson is an under the radar guitar virtuoso. He has now returned with two new releases. His first two albums travelled in a hard rock direction but now he has made an abrupt change in style. One album can best be described as acoustic pop and the other is classical.
The road to these new releases has been a difficult one for Ellefson. During 1996 he developed tendinitis which made it virtually impossible for him to play the guitar. It took five years to return to what was an acceptable level for him and another five years before he returned to the recording studio.
Serenade Of Strings is his acoustic release. He began the album over a decade ago and only recently has been able to complete it. He performs the entire guitar, bass, keyboards, and a lot of the percussion parts. The only other musician present is drummer Jeff Moos. He also wrote 16 of the 17 tracks.
This is not a laid back album with just some simple guitar picking. The music has punch and rhythm as many of the songs are up-tempo. His style is precise and the notes flow together well. He manages to keep the listeners attention throughout, which can be difficult for an instrumental album. Some of the better tracks are “The Gift,” “Duo,” “Tears,” “Homecoming,” and “Shades Of Blue.”
The Lost Art is an album of classical music recorded during 1995. It was not intended for general release but was meant for his personal use. While his recovery from tendinitis allows him to play the acoustic guitar, he is unable to play a classical guitar at an acceptable level, and may never be able to do so again. This fact prompted him to release this material as a separate album.
His inability to play classical music in the future is a loss as he has an aptitude for the style. It requires a precision and preciseness that not many guitarists take the time to develop. He varies the program so as to make it appealing. J.B. Loeillet de Gant Sonata No. 1, J.S. Bach Cello Suite No. 1, and Heritor Villa-Lobos are all nice vehicles for his explorations.
Randy Ellefson has released two different albums that are tied together by the talent of one person. If you are a fan of the guitar, either one should provide about an hour of pleasure.
Putting a capo on a guitar tends to knock it out of tune, so one day I went to play both “Reverie” and “Sun Shower” and, after putting the capo on, strummed a chord to see if the guitar was now out. For no real reason, I performed the strumming you hear at the start of “The Gift”. I immediately realized it sounded like a song, and I was off composing. This is the second song on this album, the first being “Separating”, that only exists because I wanted to see if the guitar was in tune. It received its name because my mother has always loved these songs and since I’d finished the original recording shortly before her birthday, I sent this to her as a gift.
The counterpoint section at :58 is one of my favorites on the album, and once again Jeff suggested I do the kick drums, on that one section. At some point, I added the opening lead melody but then turned it off, thinking I didn’t like it. Months later I saw it sitting there, turned off, and dimly remembered this. I turned it on just to see and was surprised I’d ever turned it off. I don’t know what I was thinking.
After not playing or writing acoustic guitar for about ten years, but still having this all-acoustic album in my heart, I decided it was time to finally resume in 2008. The big question was whether I could still write like this. I can’t say I ever really doubted it, but with “Duo”, named for the consistent double-lead guitars throughout, I was clearly back.
I tend to “arpeggiate” chords a lot, meaning pick through the notes one by one instead of strum them. However, if I did that in every section of every song, there wouldn’t be much variation, so with that in mind, I sought interesting music to strum in the newer pieces, and this is what led to the opening music and the rest of the tune.
“Dee” is the only cover song I’ve ever recorded, as it was originally written and recorded by the late, great Randy Rhoads and appeared on the first Ozzy Osbourne record, Blizzard of Ozz. On the original, Randy recorded it with two guitars and added harmonies this way. Here, I’ve performed it with only a classical guitar.
The recording is something of an accident, as I was rehearsing my own piece, “Menagerie”, and needed something similar to practice, so I learned “Dee”. When recording my piece two weeks later, I decided to record this on the spur of the moment, but didn’t intend to use it. It was only when I walked into the mixing studio late one day and the engineer had it playing that I changed my mind. I didn’t recognize it at first and thought it was someone else and sounded better than anything I’d done. It wasn’t until Jeff said, “I forgot you recorded this”, that I realized it was me! It’s rare to hear yourself objectively. Anyway, I decided to include it after all.
In The Round
This is one of my favorite pieces not only because of its sound, but for technical vanity! The second section (at :23) has a total of 6 melodies (rhythm gutiar, bass, and four different lead guitars that enter one by one). Most of the music is variations on the rhythm part at 3:12, which was actually written first, despite being more complicated that all of its variations (this tends to be true with me).
Riding With The Top Down
Dating from around 1991-92, this was the second “proper” instrumental and the second time I used some classical theory (the progressions in the strumming section), making this song a mix of old and newer influences. At the time, the strumming leads were some of my best and the song once again had some nice bass guitar lines. I was on the path to a new way of turning my ideas into greater material than what something started as. As for the title, for some reason I’ve always pictured three latino guys driving down the beach in a red convertible with the top down.
In 1990, I wrote the original version of this, which had an entirely different lead guitar part that was mostly improvised, not thematic at all. The song also didn’t have two of the current sections, including the interlude and the last one you hear in the song. I added these in the last few years but wrote most of the current melodies recently. This is the only song on the album with the lead guitars performed entirely on a classical guitar, which suited the fingerpicked rhythm part well.
I started writing this by accident when I still had the capo on the guitar after playing “Sun Shower” one day. A capo tends to change how you view the guitar neck, since it changes what keys make sense to play in, so it was natural to experiment a bit without even meaning to, and out came the start of this song. The solo at 2:24 is one of my favorite sections on the album, and its harmonized tremolo picking is the most “intense” climax on an album of laid back songs. I love the mood of this whole piece.
This is one of the oldest pieces on this album, the rhythm guitar (and original leads) having been written around 1986. The song is a bit personal to me, as I was an unhappy teenager and, when depressed, often played this 3-4 times in a row. It relaxed me, the ending in particular still causing an almost trance-like state.
The lead guitars are a mix of old (1986?) and new (late 2009, when it was all recorded). The entire first section is the original, unaltered. Various other sections are part of both. For example, at 1:19, the repeating melody is from 1986, but with more experience, I was now able to morph this into something more at 1:35-2:04. The next section alternates between old and new quickly. At 2:38 it’s all new up to 3:41, when it’s the 1986 lead again!
This solo gutiar piece is among the oldest here, from about 1986. I learned many similar pieces that inspired this as a teenager, and when I recorded it in 2009, I decided to repeat one section to make it longer. It hasn’t otherwise changed in 23 years.
I have a strong tendency to write active rhythm guitar parts, so to challenge myself, I purposely wrote the “verse” (at :25) on this to be a single chord each time, strummed once, and left it up to the unwritten lead guitar to carry the section. It doesn’t get much simpler. However, I apparently couldn’t leave well enough alone, for the lead guitar parts I wrote over it are essentially quasi rhythm/lead lines, at times with up to five note chords in them! Not once are they a single note melody, either, but usually three-note chords arranged in my usual melodic fashion.
Jeff had limited time to prepare for the album, so he said I should peform the kick drums you hear through much of the tune instead of him taking precious time to remember where I wanted them. This also resulted in me doing two drum fills. Jeff is heard playing the main beat at 2:32.
This song is named for my late cat Floyd, who was quite suddenly admitted to the hospital one day. I was shocked to hear that, at five years old, he was terminally ill and would die suddenly, without pain, probably soon. After a very long week, we learned one morning that he could finally come home that afternoon, and in between, I wrote the twin lead guitar melodies at 2:34-3:25. It has always reminded me of Floyd, who died in his sleep five months later.
Back in 1995, a month after finishing my classical guitar degree, I recorded a slew of pieces (now available as “The Lost Art” album), including this one, an original of mine, which is why it’s included on this disc and not “The Lost Art”, with the others. It’s the only classical guitar piece I ever wrote. It’s the only song of mine I’ll never perform again, as it’s fast, long, and has the same right hand pattern throughout, making it a virtual recipe for tendonitis.
I’d owned a capo for at least a decade without ever putting it on the guitar, and the second I did, out rolled the beginning of this song, which I found impossible to name for years. I also initially couldn’t decide what order to put many of the sections in, which is uncharacteristic of me; I usually write them in order. The mood change at 3:28 is one of my favorites, and I finally found a use for the orchestral string sounds I have in my keyboard; this is one of only three songs where they appear at all.
This was one of the more complicated songs to record and mix, as many of the parts could be played on steel string, nylon string, or 12-string, so I generally did them all and made up my mind which to include during mixing, but it resulted in a lot of performances to wade through and make work together.
Shades of Blue
In the summer of 1993, I had what for me was a huge breakthrough in my playing. I had merged classical theory into my usual style to produce a kind of hybrid, and I quickly began cranking out rock songs (released as the “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” album), as that’s the style I first succeeded with. In 1994-5, I stumbled into the first more “mature” acoustic guitar instrumental, “Shades of Blue”, so named because D major makes me think of blue and the song starts in D minor before converting to D major (the opening music returns at the end in a different key). It’s the first acoustic piece where variations on the material are heard within. The song was the beginning of a new era for me as an acoustic guitarist and features the newfound ability to write multiple lead guitar melodies and full, secondary rhythm guitar parts (as opposed to filler).
Dating from 1991, this song is quite an exception in my body of work. It’s mostly strumming when I’ve generally arpeggiated my parts, and it’s also mostly “open chords” in guitar lingo; that’s another thing I typically avoid. It’s also the first time I used classical theory in my playing, as the chord progressions are literally right out of a text book. In this sense, I’ve always felt the song wasn’t very creative for me, though it certainly sounds nice, played here on a 12-string, mostly. I’ve always felt that the bass guitar line was the first good one I’d written, and the song is the first step toward writing in a new style of more depth. I’ve always considered it the first true instrumental of mine for whatever reason, maybe because at the time, it stood out so much better on account of the melodies and sounded like a “real” song, not something I was toying around with and unsure how to finish. The melodies are from 1991 except a few harmonies I added in 2009.
This is also the fastest song I’ve ever written, being done in two hours, all parts. It was inspired literally by accident. I went to strum the lowest E major chord to see if the guitar was in tune and wasn’t looking and missed, holding down an F major chord instead. The problem is some notes weren’t held down on purpose, as they are “open” strings to ring, so I got half E major and half F major. Realizing my mistake, I started to correct it when I heard the open B string tension sounding like it ought to resolve upward by step to the C of an F major chord. This is now the first few strums of the song, and the rest was done quite quickly.
There’s an unusual scale known as the “whole-tone” scale, and it’s what I used to write this odd piece in 1992-3. Most scales and keys are a combination of whole and half steps, but without the latter, you can’t have a minor chord. Also, the scale causes an odd symmetry, where if you hold two notes down, you can move those notes together to every other scale step without having to change the distance between them. There are two intervals that, together, attracted my attention for being opposites of a sort: a major third (a “happy” interval), and a diminshed fifth (call “the devil in music” for its dissonance). You could create an unending string of major thirds for some very happy vibes, or the same with the dim. fifth for some evil ones. The dichotomy would attract any creative person’s attention.
To write the song, I first had to draw out on paper all of the possible chords I wanted to use, as there are only four types (major, minor, diminished, augmented) and three of them were unavailable (as a three note chord) due to the absence of the minor third (no half steps!). Since I literally had to invent the fingerings I needed, it’s probably the most original thing I’ve written from one standpoint, and in that sense it’s the exact opposite of “Separating”, and a kind of high point – but only because my playing has always been about finding new ways to do things on a guitar, and this is the extreme.
As a final note, I “broke” the scale on the last chord, introducing a half step for the minor last chord, purely because I saw the option, played it, and thought it sounded nice and surprising in its context.
A Sad Winter’s Day
The writing of the piece is all over the place, time-wise. The opening section was written around 1987 and was originally included as an interlude in a rock song. Once I became able to take an acoustic idea and turn it into an entire song, I decided to start swiping my own earlier material and improving upon what I’d done with it, especially if, as in this case, the rest of the song hadn’t stood the test of time.
It was 1996 when I wrote most of the other rhythm guitar parts, right up to but not including the solo section at 1:57, which remained missing for ten years because I got tendonitis a month into this and couldn’t play acoustic guitar for almost a decade.
Just about every note of lead guitar was written in 2008 when I finally finished this, and little changed when I re-performed everything for the album in 2009, except that drums and percussion were added.
The Joys of Spring
As is often the case, I stumbled into the idea for this song (and had already realized much of it before quite noticing it). The three main sections (rhythm guitar) are similar in that I’m holding down two adjacent strings, a musical third apart, and playing a melody while alternately striking open strings that keep ringing. The difference is that for each section, I moved down one more string from the previous section so that the music keeps descending the guitar (first on the 2 and 3 strings, then 3 and 4 strings, then 4 and 5 strings). At the same time, the first melody goes down, the next one up, and the third one down again. I started on a relatively high E major chord and finally ended on the lowest one on the guitar, all 6 strings. Then it starts over.
The song’s ending was something of an accident, as I realized that the first and second of these sections, written to occur in succession, could actually be performed together with some minor alterations, resulting in a lush, layered section. I could hardly believe the result, and combined with the lead parts, this seemed to cement my “arrival” at this level of composition in June 1996; and it was only the second song, after “Shades of Blue”, to ingrain classical theory into my acoustic guitar work. In 2009, I added drums and a few short harmony melodies, but this recording is otherwise identical to the original.
This piece has always stood out for one other reason, and a cruel one at that – it was the last song I finished writing and recording before tendontis stopped me from playing acoustic guitar for a decade. At least I had finished in top form.