This Pocatello band plays a combination of folk, bluegrass and what some have called "acoustic Americana." At a recent benefit concert, the group proved to fans they had something special when they opened their set with "This Is a Small Town" by Angier Wills. It is a song that both laments and celebrates the confines of a small town, not unlike Pocatello, and even mentions local people: "Jerry is the actor / who ruled the stage on Second Street / for many years he was the place / that Westside has become."
The fact that Jerry himself was dancing to the lively mandolin melody only reinforced the immediate audience connection.
Elvis Has Left The Building has been a popular local band with little following beyond the Pocatello area, but this new album may change that. All of the songs on the CD are written by lead singer, guitarist and mandolin player Wills. But in performance, "Elvis" guitarist Greg Mladenka also performs original songs. Mladenka's songs have a blues feel.
Wills, a native of Atlanta, Ga., and a distant relative of the legendary Bob Wills, is a skillful and prolific songwriter. His clear and introspective lyrics capture people and places. There is a "country" sound in his voice, and he makes effective use of open tunings. Though a working physician, Wills seems closer, at least in spirit, to a character from Woody Guthrie's "Bound for Glory."
"The Sun That Also Rises" is a powerful song about Ernest Hemingway. Wills was evidently inspired to write the song by one of Hemingway's granddaughters, a song that focuses on the haunted final days of the great writer. The song's title is lifted from Hemingway's first novel and contains the poignant lines, "The sun that also rises one day / will surely set."
"Just As Well" is an angry song with a driving train rhythm that describes a hellish town: "Midnight train number 209 / headlight in the rain / clear a path kiss my ass / and I won't be back again."
There is an occasional nostalgic quality in the music and "Independence Day," in particular, illustrates a feel for another era, although not a great one: "small town summer 4th of July / home of the free and the brave / parade don't go down our side of town. / Confederate flag still waves / I can see in the eyes of the business man / cross and a sheet and a gasoline can / I try to understand / on Independence Day." It's a soulful dirge, and celebrating the tragedy of another era certainly didn't hurt the legendary Band who made songs such as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
The album's 10 songs show a nice range. "Heart of My Soul" is the only waltz Wills says he has written. "When the Gods Want to Punish" is a philosophical song about that old warning, "Beware what you wish for." "Alvarado, TX" is another fast song that captures a small-town sadness and a longing to escape.
In concert, Elvis Has Left The Building plays rich folk-oriented rhythms with a variety of lively dance tunes and slower ballads. In addition to Wills, the band includes Cheryl Muller, a strong vocalist, Greg Mladenka, vocalist, guitarist and expert mandolin player and Richard Inouye on bass electric cello. Inouye's cello adds a unique sound. Jeff Young and Dan Hillebrant provide backup vocals for the album and Shelly Martsch adds bass. Perhaps this fine collection of original songs will find an audience and expand the demand for Elvis, keeping his namesake band in the building.
For more information on the CD, visit DigStation.com/ElvisHasLefttheBuilding.