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John Ellis - Come Out Fighting
Last modified: 16 Jul 2010

John Ellis - Come Out Fighting
Buy 'Come Out Fighting'
South Africa is famous for many things: Nelson Mandela, Springboks, Vuvuzelas and of course, Tree 63! The band were formed back in the 90s, originating from Durban, and are probably best known for their hugely successful recording of 'Blessed Be Your Name'. I've been a fan of the band for many years, having seen them perform at Soul Survivor back in the days when they were simply known as 'Tree'. I've always loved the unique and distinctive twang to lead singer John Ellis' voice, so when I heard that John was heading out on a solo career, I was very much looking forward to hearing his album.

As I found out more about the forthcoming debut solo album, 'Come Out Fighting', I started to wonder what I would be in for. Prior to the release, John spoke of no longer being "locked in a stylistic ghetto" of the Tree63 era, and being "liberated as a songwriter". In an interview with LTTM he said that "Contemporary Christian music is a very limited and limiting genre of music. Lyrically, I'm exploring themes that had no place in Tree63's world. I'm singing about South Africa and its politics, about depression and hope, there’s a lot of wry comedy and a fair bit of ranting there."

Ranting eh? Combine John's comments with a track listing that contains song titles such as 'Come Out Fighting', 'Brace Yourself', 'Rebels' and 'Rant', and you start to wonder what sort of an album this is going to be. Is this a man with a lot to get off his chest? Are we in for an angry album, full of frustrations boiling over after years of simmering below the surface? Well, yes and no, as I'll explain.

The album opens with 'Own Way Home', a proper rock n' roll track with great electric guitars and drums. The hard edged vocals expressing a first hint of aggression, turning to defiance for the chorus "I can find my, find my own way, own way home". It's a superb opening track, showing John giving it his all.

Title track 'Come Out Fighting' is almost on the punk side of rock, reminding me slightly of the Wheatus track 'Teenage Dirtbag'. There's more evidence of some splendid guitar riffs during this song, with another standout chorus as John sets out his position quite clearly: "Push me in the corner, I'm going to come out fighting". It's all over far too quickly for me though, as this short track could have carried out much longer without tiring.

So after two songs of defiance there's a more laid back feel to 'Maybe (Just Maybe)', showcasing John's vocals excellently, with acoustic and electric guitars combining well to back them up. Next up is the passion filled 'Government Song'. The relatively simple verses allow the lyrics to stand out, before the tempo rises for the more intense chorus. Mid way through the music fades to allow John to deliver a spoken message, culminating in the words "It's time for another revolution", which he then turns into what almost amounts to a song within a song. Hard to explain, but well worth a listen, and not hard to understand why John describes it as "one of the strongest musical pieces I’ve produced".

'A Luta Continua' opens with a chuckle and some intriguing guitar riff against a snappy beat. John sings the opening lines in short bursts, leading to the loud and catchy chorus "A Luta Continua", which translates in English as "the struggle continues", a phrase used as the rallying cry during Mozambique's war for independence, which perhaps tells you a thing or to about the inspiration for this track. The true meaning of the song may be lost to those of us outside of Africa, but as a piece of music it's not hard to admire and appreciate.

'The Unlucky One' has a more poppy feel, a slight departure from some of the earlier tracks, but highly enjoyable. Perhaps a little reminiscent of Bryan Adams style-wise. Some great lyrics, well fitted to the music. 'Rant' sounds how you'd expect. Fast, loud, aggressive. The chorus is punctuated with shouts of "Stand down" as John sings, "To the powers that be - stand down!... To the public enemies - stand down!" Great stuff!

'Brace Yourself' calms things down a little, with more of a strum that a shout. A great foot tapping rhythms goes on throughout, and the sing-along chorus muses "You've got to brace yourself, make them take you alive. Kick out that dying lie. And just stay awake. Resist the urge to speak and keep on stumbling".

Another quieter track is 'Rebels', which slowly weaves its way along until that fabulous Ellis vocal twang comes out at its strongest in the chorus. Gentle throughout, I can imagine this being stunning live, with the lights dimmed and the atmosphere etched with admiration. 'Fingerhold' continues at the same pace, but just has such a stunning chorus of "Are you still holding on? Say you'll never let me go". The twanging guitar riff accompanying John's beautifully sung vocals gives it an unbelievable melody, filled with emotion.

So in summary, yes there is some evidence of a man finally free to say what he really thinks. To draw inspiration from his personal angst's of a much troubled country. To speak out against the things that annoy him. But by no means does he berate the listener, or leave you feeling like you've been through the washing machine the wrong way. No, what John does with his album is let his talents as a songwriter, singer and musician shine out more brightly than they ever have before. I was going to give this album four stars until I tried working out which were my top three standout tracks. Then I realised that nearly every song on the album deserved to be in that short list. So what else can I do but give this full marks? What an album!

Buy: UK iTunes, US iTunes

Review by Dave Wood

Standout Tracks
Own Way Home
Come Out Fighting
Fingerhold
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