With his debut LP ‘Aware’ Jake Mcelfresh, better known as Front Porch Step, showed a rare gift for writing simple yet plaintive emotional acoustic ballads that shot from the hip in inescapably raw fashion and dealt the listener fresh blows straight to the heart with each new song. Now just in time for his first trip to the UK next month Mcelfresh is back with a follow up offering, new EP ‘Whole Again’.
From the outset its striking that Mcelfresh has clearly worked on adding depth, colour and shade to the instrumental aspects of his writing. Whereas in the past his songs tended to be based around chord progressions on a single acoustic guitar, we now have multiple acoustic guitar lines blended with subtle additions of piano and organ here and there. All resulting in a much more rounded, complete feel to each song. The extra instrumental layers help to add a sense of mellowness to counter the stark unchecked flow of feelings that are Mcelfresh’s lyrics and the tortured soulfulness of his voice.
Previously listening to a Front Porch Step was a gut-wrenching yet oddly cathartic experience. You couldn’t help but share some of Mcelfresh’s lovelorn woe and life induced pain. With the new tracks on ‘Whole Again’ however, the crafting of the songs is so hauntingly beautiful and deftly delivered that they often become unexpectedly uplifting, almost ethereal, despite some of the hurt described.
Opener ‘A Lovely Mess’ picks up right where ‘Aware’ left off. Mcelfresh poetically pouring out his anguish at being spurned by the object of his love, musing about her perceived perfection against what he feels to be his own all too obvious short comings, all over a deceptively jaunty acoustic rhythm part that intertwines with a broodingly melodic lead line.
‘Heaven Sent’ sees him flip the formula around, a distinctly melodic, intricately finger picked guitar part backing an initially wistful lyrics and vocal that becomes increasingly reflective and regretful as the song progresses. Before the musical soundscape expands, with a mournful resonating slide guitar section that invokes thoughts of City and Colour at its finest.
Mcelfresh then gets into the spirt of the season and indulges in a commendably unique and heart-warming take on ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, that shows how strong his vocal ability truly is and stands head and shoulders above all the usually tired and soulless acoustic re-workings of festive songs.
That just leaves it to the bluesy title track ‘Whole Again’ to end things in poignant effecting fashion, on a number which allows the gravel and soul of the Mcelfresh’s voice to shine and be contrasted against another very City and Colour style element, this time a haunting backing vocal harmony. Before the singer adds yet another element to his writing and shows he can rock things up, ending the song with a great distorted blues guitar solo.
From the three new original tracks seen here Front Porch Step has put down a great marker for the new directions he’s taking his music in, showing the devastatingly effecting power of his writing grows ever more potent by the release. Based on ‘Whole Again’ Jake Mcelfresh is a musician only just beginning to appreciate his own potential, if this development continues at the same pace long player number three will be even more special then this sweet taste of what’s to come.
‘Whole Again’ by Front Porch Step is out Now on Pure Noise Records
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright