As far as I know I've never heard a note of Aaron Ross' band Hella, and I purposely approached his first solo album, Shapeshifter, without paying Hella a MySpace visit. I was treated to a great, sprawling beast of a record, full of catchy pop songs banging around inside invigorating, epic folk jam sessions.
The first thing you'll latch on to is Ross' voice, a powerful yelp not unlike that of Destroyer and New Pornographer Dan Bejar or even Okay's Marty Anderson, a little intimidating but ultimately, through these spiritual tunes, uplifting. Many of the record's most powerful moments come when the mighty din of the great collective of local musicians present here fades and Ross' voice is left alone with only acoustic guitar to bellow out another timeless-sounding refrain, one the listener will be hard-pressed not to join in on after hearing once or twice.
The songs have a free, loose-limbed quality to them, with shades of classic rock and blues; I'm reminded of Led Zeppelin III at times. They may ramble too long for some - no track clocks in at less than five minutes, and several break seven - but to these ears Ross and company have found a happy medium between tight songwriting and improvisational expanse.
Shapeshifter is one of the first releases on the Nevada City, CA-based Grass Roots Record Co. and makes the label one to watch. Ross plays tonight in Chico, CA and on the 26th in Nevada City; see the tour page for details.
MP3: Aaron Ross - Elevator Blues