Steve Elci & Friends channel endless childhood on new CD
If you're a kid, the autumn-into-winter calendar dates of Halloween and Christmas are beacons of great promise against the grueling processional of school and homework. Ditto for long-forestalled spring break after the post-New Year's Day drudgery.
Ultimately, though, all roads lead to Summer Vacation. Countless books, movies and songs have been written trying to capture or glorify that almost incalculable freedom and joy that tumbles forth for children when the final class bell sounds on another school year.
Steve Elci, the veteran local musician who has focused for the last several years on writing and performing children's music, has zero problems when it comes to recalling the sublimity of his own childhood summers. In fact, "Jump in the Puddles," the fourth and brand-new CD from Steve Elci & Friends, is a concept recording about those triumphant months of June, July and August from the perspective of youth. The band celebrates Friday with a CD release party in New London at the conceptually perfect Captain Scott's Lobster Dock.
"Jump in the Puddles" is, in fact, a sunny and cohesive effort. Elci, whether spinning timeless pop melodies or slyly mining irresistible Chuck Berry/early Beatles progressions, serves up 10 songs of such thematic and narrative skill it's like Brian Wilson's fourth grade "How I spent my summer vacation" report. As Elci sings in "Shine On," one of the album's most anthemic cuts, "I will hold on to these memories / like a distant constellation shining through eternity."
As captured with empathy and sonic pixie dust by Elci's longtime producer Dave Tusia, "Jump in the Puddles" sparkles with crisp, warm sound and bouncy melody. And the CD is also the most band-centric in Elci's catalog. Where he usually played most of the instruments on the first three albums — "Crayons in a Box," "Vowels" and "Imagination Nation" — he opted this time out to incorporate his live band in the studio. It's a unit Elci calls "truly amazing musicians and people," and indeed they comprise some of the finest players in the area: guitarist Todd Fake, drummer Shawn Fake, bassist Bert Coburn, and keyboardist Kurt Ginter along with vocalists Michele Casey O'Neill. Several other regional and notable players also contributed on various tracks.
This recording also marks a renewed effort by Elci & Friends to move beyond the "beloved local artist" level — an effort that received significant gravitas when noted music publicist Elizabeth Waldman, who works with some of the biggest names in children's music, took on their cause.
By email from her San Francisco office, Waldman emails, "Steve's music has a joyous, good-times, enthusiastic quality that I personally find irresistible. Yet, while Steve's artistry is exceptional, he's been an under-the-radar performer — at least on the national level — for nearly a decade. This set of circumstances set up a challenge, and I do like a good challenge."
It's important to note that Waldman only works with clients whose musical potential is matched by their character. She says, "I wanted to help Steve begin to make the move to the national stage. However, my reasons were about much more than the music. They were also about Steve. He's a truly good, kind, compassionate person who cares deeply and helps others in a big way. It was time for someone to help him, and I felt compelled to do so."
Last week, Elci answered five questions about "Jump in the Puddles" and the forever resonance of summer.
1. Is "Jump in the Puddles" in fact about summer?
A: "Oh, yeah! Growing up, summer was magical, creative and yet a simple time for me — spending the seemingly endless days enjoying the simple pleasures of a bike ride, a walk on a sandbar, a picnic, being with family and friends and, of course, jumping in a puddle after a rainstorm was all I could ask."
2. How do you manage to write lyrics and songs that reach and teach young people but also appeal to the parents?
A: "Seeing things through the eyes of a child is my specialty. Perhaps I never really grew up — or even really wanted to. I can recall events, emotions and conversations as though they happened yesterday. The sensations are so strong they allow me seemingly unlimited access to channel my childhood. This is one of the reasons I knew I could be really effective and prolific as a children's songwriter."
3. What are your thoughts about the idea of musical "imprinting" and whether certain music stays with us as a sort of sonic scrapbook to the past — particularly in the context you're writing music specifically aimed at children?
A: "Imprinting is super important. When I first started writing kids' songs, I was writing them for my kids. They were designed to inspire them musically, lyrically and physically. To that end, I knew what they'd hear and sing was something they'd take to heart and throughout life's journey.
"It's also true imprinting has a scientific and factual basis I take seriously. At a Steve Elci & Friends show, we believe positive messages and songs about family and the simple things in life are building blocks to a child's success."
4. Your sons Jordan and Connor were your original "test subjects" but are now a bit older than the typical "Elci & Friends" listening demographic. Can you still rely on them for feedback?
A: "Yeah, that original set-up is no longer accurate. At 14 and 16, Jordan and Connor are no longer around like they used to be. It seems like they always have sports and work engagements to attend. (Laughs) Respecting all my hard work, they of course still support me, but I needed a new plan. Fortunately, after all of these years of bouncing musical ideas off my songs, I've learned the blueprint and can now internally visualize and develop songs on my own. It's like a light switch just flipped and I just get it now."
5. You're now working with Elizabeth Waldman. How did that happen? Do you feel the "window of opportunity" closing a bit?
A: "The window is closed when I'm six feet under — and not a day sooner! I knew I had some special songs, a special band and a special producer in Dave — who is no small part of Steve Elci & Friends. And I just believe the work deserves to be heard outside New London, so I sent a demo to Elizabeth because she's one of the top children's music publicists in the world.
"She told me the songs were 'A-line caliber' and we went to work. So far, songs from the CD have been played on stations as far as Australia and Dubai as well as all over America. The footprint is starting to grow. We're going to get the music to the masses and let the cards fall where they may. It's the best we can do."
If you go
Who: Steve Elci & Friends
What: Release party for "Jump in the Puddles"
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Captain Scott's Lobster Dock, 80 Hamilton St., New London
How much: Free; CDs available for $10.
For more information: (860) 439-1741, steveelciandfriends.com
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