Mark Erelli arrives with a tried-and-true brand of country

    Anyone looking for a little bit of country in San Diego need look no further than Mark Erelli, who comes to town on April 15 armed with guitar and twang.

    While attending graduate school, New England-bred Erelli first made his debut onto the country folk-rock scene at the age of 24, rocking at 3 a.m. at an impromptu music conference showcase in a hotel room.

    He released his first record in 1999, a self-titled debut on Signature Sounds, which earned him a prestigious Kerrville New Folk award, the first of a string of awards and respect he would garner in the next four years.

    His second album, Compass & Companion, was released in 2001 — featuring collaborative work with classic country folk musicians like Kelly Willis on the title track — and landed him on tour with the likes of Dave Alvin, John Hiatt, Nanci Griffith and Gillian Welch. The album was nominated for two Boston Music Awards, spent nine weeks on the Top Ten Americana charts, and established Erelli as a formidable country roots musician.

    The Memorial Hall Recordings marked a different path in Erelli’s course of music. He returned to his New England roots and produced an ambitious album with a New England theme. Full of originals, covers, and new arrangements of songs, the daring release showed Erelli’s true talent for country music, and his ability to reinvent and still tie his work to the thoughtfulness of classic folk.

    Now at 29, Erelli is on tour in support of his fourth album Hillbilly Pilgrim, a collection influenced and infused with the sounds of 1930s and ’40s western swing. Straying from the stronger Americana-tinged folk and blues of his previous three albums, this album is filled with the influences of Lyle Lovett and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Produced with the help of Boston’s Spurs, Hillbilly Pilgrim has been met with much acceptance and revelry in the country crowd.

    Erelli shows a remarkable talent for invoking the spirits of country swing past. He creates a lyricism that is beautiful in wordplay and steeped in nostalgic, heart-string-pulling storytelling, a craft that had been refined by country artists such as Gilmore. Going full force into creating an album that was more country was a conscious choice.

    “I’ve always played hyphenated country music — country-rock, country-folk. For once, I wanted to do something a little more purebred,” Erelli said.

    Mark Erelli performs on April 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Normal Heights United Methodist Church, 4650 Mansfield St., San Diego, CA 92116. Check out http://www.markerelli.com for more information about the artist, and http://www.acousticmusicsandiego.com for more information on the venue and other acoustic concert events.

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