When her band, Bobby Llama, won the 1999 Sam Goody/Musicland 'Best Unsigned Band In America' contest, it might have seemed like a dream come true, but as soon as the major label suits came knocking, Ellis Bergeron saw some of her worst nightmares taking shape. When they expressed their desire to see her image 'sexed up' for the frat boys they wanted to sell records to, Ellis, who had been releasing solo records on her own label since she was a teenager, decided to leave the band and pursue success on her own terms.
With a national touring schedule that fills 150+ nights a year, four years on top of the Reader's Choice polls in the Twin Cities (born in Texas, she's now based in Minneapolis) and the release of her fourth solo album, that decision is looking better all the time. More importantly, her music is getting better all the time, and Tigers Above, Tigers Below is as fine an example of contemporary singer/songwriter folk-rock as you'll find in any market, on any label.
Blending the personal and political so deftly that the separation is often invisible, Ellis writes music to be taken seriously, but delivers it in a way that's invariably entertaining. As a fiercely independent woman with a neo-folkie bent, the comparisons to Ani DiFranco are inevitable, and the presence of DiFranco keyboardist Julie Wolf on this album only invites more, but in many respects those comparisons fail. As much as I appreciate Ani, I find that Ellis is far more consistently enjoyable. The other artist whose name is invoked as a comparison is Ellis' fellow Texan, Edie Brickell, and I have almost the opposite take on that one - as much as I enjoy Edie, I find myself taking Ellis far more seriously.
With her grueling road schedule (a spring tour hit 16 states this year), there's a pretty good chance that Ellis will show up somewhere near you sometime soon. Until then, it would serve you well to track this disc down and keep it close to the player.
Tigers Above, Tigers Below CD review