M ROSS PERKINS – E Pluribus M Ross (Karma Chief KCR-12012)

E Pluribus M RossSinger, multi-instrumentalist and self-styled psychedelic songwriter, M Ross Perkins, recently finalized work on his second LP, E Pluribus M Ross. Set for a March 18th release, the album serves as a follow-up to 2018’s What Did You Do For Summer Break EP.

From the offset, the Liverpudlian elephant in the room bears acknowledging. Listeners with the slightest familiarity are bound to glean from these arrangements a profound Beatles influence. From the singing and playing, to the melodic choices throughout, much of this material sounds as though it could have been penned by the Fab Four themselves.

This isn’t to the detriment of the project, however, and Beatles fans at home are likely to enjoy what often sounds like the group taking time to further explore some of the many musical territories through which they raced during their short time together. But one would be remiss not to recognize the veritable creative voice at the centre of E Pluribus M Ross.

As with previous releases, Perkins continues the proud McCartney album tradition of handling all the instrumental work himself from top to bottom. The experience is conceptually solid, its musical walls adorned with vivid, expressive splashes of color, while the bones of the house, as it were, hint at something a bit earthier.

This contrast presents regularly throughout, and can be heard on tracks such as ‘Butterscotch Revue’ and rockabilly-tinged lead single ‘Wrong Wrong Wrong’. The sound of the former rings like a distant relative of The Band’s ‘W.S. Walcott Medicine Show’, itself the closest The Band ever came to emulating the lurid conceptualization of works like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But it is the distinct attention to foundational structure and songwriting that serve as the defining characteristics of E Pluribus M Ross. Sidestepping a frequent gaffe of psychedelia’s principal facilitators, the album never allows itself to become a mere vehicle for “vibes”. It’s a trippy engagement, sure, but never trippy for the sake of being trippy.

Vibrant flourishes of instrumentation, as heard on cuts like ‘Industrial Good Day Mantra’ and ‘This One’, serve to accentuate the ideas at the core of the material rather than to distract from a lack thereof. Meanwhile, numbers such as ‘Pinball Blonde’ – with its Keith Richards-leaning rhythm work – retain focus on the core elements of the songs.

While the influence of several high profile acts is evident throughout, the selection of which of these influences is explored at which points brings an additional dimension of interest to the project. It is telling, for example, that the album’s Floydian elements are more indebted to the cheeky and distinctively English, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, era of the band’s discography, than of the spaced-out, vaguely prog wash of projects like The Dark Side Of The Moon.

This influence is most palpable later in the album’s runtime, where the playful organ swells and bouncy, traditional pop aesthetic of numbers such as ‘Mr. Marble Eyes (Marbles For His Eyes)’ reflect Syd Barrett’s distinctive approach to much of his work with Pink Floyd. Likewise, album closer ‘Funeral For A Satellite’ incorporates elements of more progressive, psychedelic works like A Saucerful Of Secrets and Meddle.

Again, with so many points of reference with which to occupy one’s attention, it is important to direct focus to the key elements of E Pluribus M Ross, those being the songs and the songwriter. Lennon-esque turns of phrase like “I get so tired of me, sometimes I wish that I could buy me some sleep”, instill within the material a relatability which endears it to the casual listener as well as the studied music fanatic.

The production throughout E Pluribus M Ross is essential in grounding the album’s vintage aesthetic in the realm of believability. Blaring 12-string phrases on tracks like ‘Tired of Me’ sounds as though they could’ve been produced by Roger McGuinn himself, while the solo tones on ‘Wrong Wrong Wrong’ echo those of a White Album-era George Harrison.

The dry recording of the drums for the album do much in manifesting a palpable throwback feel. The boominess of the snares throughout 2016’s M Ross Perkins has been reeled in, and the kit itself has been bumped up in the mix ever so slightly since 2018’s What Did You Do For Summer Break. The result, as can be best heard on tracks like ‘The New American Laureate’, contributes to the illusion of hearing a full band throughout E Pluribus M Ross, rather than a single musician.

With technological advancements occurring too rapidly for many creative minds to adequately process them, much has been made of breaking new creative ground through digital mediums. It is important, however, to consider the wealth of inspiration that still lies within works of the past, and how antiquated techniques can render progress when applied in the modern world.

E Pluribus M Ross is a collection which attests to the enduring significance, not only of the singer/songwriter, but of songwriting-based musical arrangement. M Ross Perkins is a songwriter’s songwriter, but an array of earworm melodies and winsome harmonic explorations all but guarantee a delightful listening experience for all who choose to take the dive into E Pluribus M Ross. 

Cameron Gunnoe

Artist’s Website: http://www.mrossperkins.com

‘Pinball Blonde’ – live and acoustic: