Dennis Ellsworth is a prolific songwriter. Lately he’s gotten into rhythm of writing, recording and releasing an album a year. In between records, he travels around the planet singing songs characterized by a kind of dark optimism that’s informed by early influences such as Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond and Kris Kristofferson.
Ellsworth can’t pinpoint what first prompted him to pursue music, but recalls singing ‘Forever in Blue Jeans’ in front of the mirror while brushing his teeth as a child. Since making the leap from the bathroom to the barroom, Ellsworth has toured Canada extensively, made inroads into the US and built a substantial following in the UK. In all, he’s released six records — all recorded live in a house or studio; two with his side project, Haunted Hearts, as well as Chesterfield Dweller of the Year (2009), the Strange Boat EP (2011), Dusk Dreams (2012) and his latest, Hazy Sunshine, in 2013 as a solo artist.
Although he’s refined his sound and approach to writing over the years, some things remain constant. One is an acoustic guitar he rescued from 1970’s era cottage in the Catskills; a guitar on which he’s written almost every song he’s put down on tape and believes has a lot to do with his gift for songwriting. Another is the emphasis he places on collaboration with the musicians he brings together for each album and the importance of allowing their unique voices as players to influence his songs.
Produced by Skydiggers guitarist, Josh Finlayson, and recorded over five days and wine filled nights at The Bathhouse, near Kingston, Ontario, Hazy Sunshine is a perfect example of how positively special that collaboration can be. “When I set out to make this album I wanted to isolate myself in the winter in rural Canada, and for that to contribute to the sound of the record, but we went in a different direction,” he says. Although Hazy Sunshine represents a departure from Ellsworth’s past records — Dusk Dreams in particular — never before has the Charlottetown-based singer/songwriter released an album as heavily informed by his belief that, no matter how rough things get, if you lose hope you lose the ability to effect positive change.
The result is a seamless blend of modern East Coast folk and rock and roll with shades of classic Americana, roots and country haunting the edges; a set of songs that anyone who’s questioned their place in the world will find their own experiences reflected in.
While Hazy Sunshine dwells heavily on the necessity of remaining positive, it’s fuelled by the kind of dark optimism that’s always driven Ellsworth’s songwriting. “I’m hopeful but I’m not a firm believer,” he says, bluntly. There have been times that music has saved him, and times that it’s let him down, but aside from his beautiful and loving wife and their cat Winsloe, music has always been his truest friend and companion.