Here and Now
Switzerland may be one of the last places you’d expect as home for a soulful blue band. Yet. Switzerland has a more vital music scene than most of us realize. If the Elllis Mano Band is a good indication of that underated musical hotbed, we can only respond by saying we’d like to hear more. This is a top notch band in many dimensions and the players have strong pedigrees. Vocalist Chris Ellis was a regular on Swiss and German television, radio, and in summer outdoor concerts. Guitarist Edis Mano was an arena-filling celebrity in the Balkans as a youth before backing all the top names in Switzerland. Top session bassist Severin Graf is known in Switzerland as “Mr. Groove.” Drummer Nico Looser backed Tracy Chapman and others while working in the states before serving for years in the band for Switzerland’s top late night TV show and played and recorded with Scarlet Rivera.
It sounds as if they were all too busy to make music of their own and took a year of collaboration struggling with respective schedules to hone the blues influenced sound they put forth on Here and Now. The subjects and song titles are rather universal, seemingly not tied to Switzerland in any way as one gleans titles like “Whiskey,” “Goodbye My Love,” “Georgia” and “Bad News Blues” for example. Searing blues rock greets us in the opening “Whiskey” as the protagonist takes refuge from heartbreak. The opposite feeling follows as the sensuality of summer and newfound love has Ellis displaying a terrific vocal range extending to falsetto to convey his glee. “Where We Belong” is about searching for home.
The focus of the band is Chris’s emotive vocals paired with Mano’s churning, burning, soaring guitar, perhaps best exemplified on the title track. Guests help on select tracks. “Where We Belong“ is primarily piano-driven via Manuel Halter (who also plays B3) and “Goodbye My Love,” with Mano displaying a more tender guitar style, is one of six tunes with horns. Background vocalists are here as well, couched as a choir in the closing ”Jeannine.”
Unlike many blues albums, consistent themes run through these ten originals, with regret emerging first. Ellis seems perfectly convincing singing about about life’s challenges, the loves lost, the battle against oneself—introspection you don’t expect from a rocking band like this. These first three songs are superb but the strength of the album is the middle beginning with “Goodbye My Love,” a beautiful and moving song with interesting chord changes, solid songcraft and expressive Ellis’ vocals. The haunting and powerful “A Lifetime” opens with spare guitar and a moody vibe as Ellis again sings despairingly and honestly about regret. In fact, these lines as sung by Ellis are some that linger in your head long after listening. “If I had only lived another life, if I had only been a better man, well maybe wishful thinking, you may not have become his wife,” It’s tear inducing.
The third in this middle trilogy if you will, is “Badwater,” filled with visual imagery and catchy guitar hooks. This one borders on a classic rock sound, but Ellis is better than most classic rock vocalists. Here, though, he gets scary singing about a gun and a perilous decision. It could be soundtrack for a western, in a desert somewhere, certainly not the Swiss Alps.
The Ellis Mano Band stand apart from many other blues rock bands due to strong songwriting, high talent among the players, a consistency in theme, and bringing the right emotions at the right time. They are tight and in synch throughout. Give a listen. They will move you.
- Jim Hynes