The opening song of Ellis’s concert Saturday at Listen Live Music in Macungie told you pretty much everything you needed to know about the singer-songwriter.
With a hint of a Texas twang, her voice moving from hardly a whisper to a bold statement over ringing guitar, Ellis sang “500 Crows,” the lead-off song on her newest disc “Wherever You Are.”
It started with the simple picture of the singer seeing a tree full of birds and turned into a life lesson, as most of her songs do – and, not co-incidentally, most of life does, too.
Like life, Ellis imparted fun and reflection in a very entertaining 20-song show of two sets totaling 90 minutes (plus an intermission.) And, like life, the show was deceptively deep.
Performing for the second time at Listen Live Music (she was part of the venue’s first season in 2010) and just a week after appearing (for her third time) on public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” Ellis played guitar that often was understated – seemingly simple but delicate and precise.
She also played strong ukulele – sparse plucking on “What Makes You Happy” and cute and fun on “Ukulele Song.”
Her voice, too, often surprised: often sounding like Suzanne Vega, such as on the early song “Red Light,” then suddenly like Jewel in her higher ranges, such as on “Somebody Misses You,” a song she said she was performing in front of an audience for the first time.
But her voice always in pure, strong notes that punctuated the lyrics, the singer often closing her eyes as if to reach for emphasis, instead of pointless vocal runs. In addition to the smile on her face, Ellis’ voice, too, carried the sound of a smile – often sly but never snarky, first revealing itself on the night’s second song, “How Would It Be.”
A big surprise was the song “I’ve Got a Thing for You” – a jazz-tinged tune on which Ellis’ voice sounded sassy, with a Norah Jones vibe.
But the best of Ellis’ songs stood out, like “500 Crows,” for the messages they conveyed, both through words and music.
“Right Now” was a directive to live in the moment – Ellis (who hasn’t yet hit 40) joked that her forgetfulness means it’s the best way for her to live. The contemplative “Right on Time,” which she described as “a wish of sorts,” had a similar message – and was perhaps the night’s best.
Also very good were the gentle and wistful “You Are Royalty to Me,” a letter to her grandmother, and “The Guest House,” a tune she wrote as part of an acoustic guitar songwriters program she curates.
Not all were life lessons: The fun “Coffee Song” was a fun “personal love song” to the beverage.
She closed the main part of her show with the introspective and gentle “Trouble,” then finished with a pre-announced encore (she never left the stage) of “Wherever You Are,” the title cut from the new disc.
The latter is a song of departure – death, a breakup, or simply a departure, as in the final song of a concert. Another life lesson, and all you need to know about Ellis.
Cristabelle Braden, who has performed well at Lehigh Valley acoustic performers contests in recent years, showed a strong voice opening the show with a set of four pleasant contemporary Christian/faith-based pop songs on guitar and keyboard.
Singer Ellis's songs tell you all you need to know at Listen Live Music (2014)