• aaron ross Shapeshifter (CD, £4.25)

    label: Grass Roots Record Co.

    Aptly described by its title, AARON ROSS's solo effort Shapeshifter is more than a listening experience, but a poetic endeavour that explores the scope of life. Each song tells a magnificently dynamic tale, complete with a lyrical imagery reminiscent of greats like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, and sung with the heartfelt resolve that makes Ross's voice one-of-a-kind. At first listen, it's hard to believe the front man for California rockers Hella had a cache of folk-inspired and orchestral-touched songs secreted in his soul but as each verse unlocks his impassioned reflection it is clear they've been burgeoning since long ago. AARON ROSS has most recently been known as the powerful voice of the experimental rock outfit Hella, but in his local community of Nevada City, CA, he is the most respected of the area's most prominent musicians and his reputation as a devoted family man may explain the sparks that developed into the beautifully arranged Shapeshifter. Each experience, whether weathered or uplifting, led to the blossoming of each song from beginning to finish and each contributor on the album, from cello to drum, was given the liberty to alter and explore their parts as they saw fit. Calling on friends Neal Morgan of Joanna Newsom's Ys Street Band, Dan Elkan and David Torch of Them Hills, Jonathan Hischke of Kings & Queens and cellist Luke Janela, Ross fashioned the picture and let each musician fill in the colours. Ross enlisted the help of Elkan on production as well (also of Hella and Holy Smokes fame), reasoning: "I believe you should work only with people who believe in your music as much as if it were their own and he did; everyone who played on the record did." Written in the fall of 2006 and recorded early 2007, the result is a stunning example of the splendour created when a handful of gifted musicians align their spirits. Each track is a contemplative journey complete with a beginning, climax and finale. Ross's tenor voice, always unwavering, leads the way as tumultuous drums juxtapose with spry cello melodies on the opening track "Pass the Peace Pipe." On "Looking Glass Mass", a folk romp that could easily be passed down from one generation to the next provides a lighthearted undercurrent to powerful words on the simplicity of life: "You can laugh and you can cry but everybody still must die." Charged words of freedom and spirituality take the spotlight on "Mississippi Burnin'", as a guitar lullaby summons the listener closer before culminating in an all-out jam. The album's finale, "Speak the Truth", showcases Ross's remarkable vocal agility and leaves the listener with a resounding message on humanity.

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