On a warm summer evening, there’s little better you can do than pour yourself a drink, put this album on, and let it and yourself bleed into the heat and noisy insects humming outside. A candle in the window makes it even better. Trust me!
My Scottish friend put me onto this little-known gem. I’ve since spread the word to many, but the band themselves seem to have long since completely fallen off the radar. Their Wikipedia page has been deleted due to a lack of relevance. Sometimes there’s no musical justice.
Ella Guru are named after a Captain Beefheart song, but it’s hard to work out what, if any common ground, they share. Apart from the raucous and totally unexpected “My Favourite Punk Tune”, which always has me dashing to turn the volume down, the rest of the album is exquisitely hushed.
The quietness of the sound and whispered vocals meant the band had to ask audiences to keep it down at the gigs they did perform. If they did as instructed, they were in for a magical treat. I can’t imagine chatting over a live performance of these songs myself; it would be something akin to sacrilege.
The eight musicians who ended up playing on the album chose to keep their eyes closed when they were not playing so as to be transported to the place the music was taking them. And there are oceans of space to travel within the sound, despite the number of contributors. The woodwind and brass are a model of restraint.
Stylistically, the album is music as meditation, warm country-tinged ambience with frequent references to summer. “Park Lake Speakers”, perhaps the finest song, is a night gathering at the park where “your friends will save a place for you on the grass”. You can almost feel the earth below you and smell the summer night air.
There’s room for romance and reflection on “My Rock and Roll” (I have searched you/You have searched me too), and there’s wry humour on the following track: “I got a cat/And called him Mojo/Now he’s a working cat/I got my Mojo workin'”. The use of a word like “mojo” seems incongruous given the musical backing, but as he’s a cat, it somehow makes sense.
The album’s coda rides out on a Jimmy Carl Black vocal wave and thus the Beefheart connection is made (he played drums for them at one stage of his long and varied career). His generous deep southern voice confidently guides the album to its close and adds an authentic American timbre to the Liverpool-based group.
As the title implies, this was Ella Guru’s first album. Tragically, it was also their last. But if you’re only going to put out one album, you really can’t get much better than this one.