Maine-based songstress Ellen Tipper's 2010 release "the Juggler" is a breath-taking and beautifully crafted album full of sensitivity, warmth and charm. By the time I'd got through the first three songs Ellen's sweet and delicate voice had me captivated, so much so that I've had this CD on "repeat" ever since. This is 44 minutes of bliss. A simmering melting pot of styles, touching on various genres, yet the distinctive voice, minimalist arrangements and thoughtful piano threads through the track list, keeping all the flavors tied nicely together.
The impactful "Caroline" has a delicate poignancy with the piano and cello set as counterpoints. Tipper builds tension with the rhythm of her lyrics tripping lightly over her romantic piano melody. The subtle melancholy of each verse is beautifully contrasted as the song builds and climbs into each chorus. Tipper's words are sufficiently vague to leave you pondering about the back-story. The title track "The Juggler' is an intimate and personal portrait of the singer-songwriter. The sprawling metaphor throwing up images of circus life and performance pressure. It's not that hard to make the connection to the difficulties of the modern mother and homemaker balancing the needs of family with her own passions for creativity. "Non-La" is an ambitious song with its tricky rhythm and far eastern iconography, yet Tipper's vocal glides effortlessly over the verses. Ned Ferm provides the tenor sax break and though totally appropriate, it seems to be a little over-cautious and held back in the mix, which is a bit of a shame. "Don't Want You to Know'" is a beautiful ballad, exquisitely intimate and seemingly ultra-personal. I love the melancholy here. Incredibly, Ellen invites the listener into he very heart and soul and the emotion here is deeply touching. The song is followed immediately and just as sensitively by "Turbulent Mind." The stark intimacy here is both fragile and vulnerable, reminding me of Suzanne Vega. Which is ironic, because Ellen's voice on "Rainy Monday" has a simlar, pure quality, much like Vega's - particularly in the verses.
It's hard to find any weaknesses on this superbly polished production, however I could hear a little hiss on the noise floor of "Sweet Love," "Non La" and at the start of "Turbulent Mind." These are, of course, very minor flaws in light of the crisp quality of this recording. John Kurgan has worked hard to ensure that Ellen's songs shine in the very best light. After a few listens through, I wondered about the song order. Not that "Sweet Love' is a weak song in any way, shape, or form, but it seemed to be (for me at least) a strange choice for an opener.
Overall, this is a very accomplished and impressive album, easily worthy of attention and interest from the music loving public. It's the space within the arrangements and the gorgeous intimacy between performer and audience that makes the CD so special. Together with the production, with benefits enormously from John Kurgan's expertise and his stance against current trends of squeezing the life out of music with digital compression. I wonder if Ellen Tipper will ever tour the UK? If not, I guess I will need to get myself up to Maine the next time I visit the United States. This is one hot act I really would need to see!
Aimsel Ponti, Portland Press Herald, "Tipper juggles several genres flawlessly on her second record" February 17, 2011
"The Juggler" is the second release from singer/songwriter/pianist Ellen Tipper. It follows her 2007 debut, "Flanagan's Field." I liked that record, and I love this one.
Having listened to little else for the past four days, I have absorbed the CD's 13 songs and offer these remarks: If music genres were found in a supermarket, Tipper wheeled her cart down the pop, country, folk, piano-ballad and Americana aisles, and made an impulse funky blues purchase with the song "Keep it Raw" at the register.
The first element that draws me to Tipper's sound is her voice. It's clear and engaging, and brings to mind Shawn Colvin with a little Tracey Thorn from Everything But the Girl occasionally mixed in. Next there's her piano. It's confident but not overbearing, reminding me of Carole King's work on "Tapestry."
"The Juggler's" second track "Caroline" is Tipper on piano with cello from Mai Bloomfield. It's a stirring composition. The title track comes next, and it's solo Tipper playing crystal-cut piano.
"Non La" is another standout track. With piano like low-grade thunder, Tipper sings it out, "Non La rides so slowly, she knows just where she wants to go/The wheels of her bicycle moving in time to a life that she knew long ago."
The stinging sad ballad "Don't Want You to Know" is yet another perfect Tipper moment. "It's well after midnight, a drink in my hand/I'm feeling this rock in my head turn to sand/but I don't want you to know." John Kurgan's subtle bass and Juan Condori's cello complement Tipper's piano superbly.
"Silk Purse" has the international flavor lent to Tipper by time spent in Asia and Africa doing public health work. "I'm gazing at the Buddha's eyes/I have a silk purse/She has some money in her hand, but is it just enough for rice?" asks Tipper, along with Geoff Wadsworth's bansuri flute, Mike Bennett's drums, Kurgan's bass, and chanting backing vocals from Jessie Holladay and Tipper herself.
There are a lot of songs to be excited about on "The Juggler" and with 13 to choose from it will be a challenge not to wrap your arms around several of them. "The Juggler" was produced, recorded, and mixed by John Kurgan at Birdsong in Mount Desert, Maine and is available for purchase at www.ellentipper.com, iTunes, amazon.com, and cdbaby.com.
Lucky Clark, CD Review, Kennebec Journal, February 8, 2011
When I heard that Ellen Tipper had released a brand new CD, I was ecstatic, but when it came time to put it into my player I was a bit nervous.
You see, I really loved her debut 2007 album "Flanagan's Field" and was unsure she could top such an incredible piece of work - I needn't have worried. Her sophomore album - "The Juggler" - has everything I liked in the first release and more. The songwriting is sharper and more compelling, her sweet voice has a warmth and compassion that is palpable, and the backing musical support is diverse and tasteful...in short, a highly entertaining and enjoyable listen! I'm constantly struck by her piano chops (she reminds me a bit of Liz Story in that capacity) and when coupled with an incredible melodic sensibility, the songs Tipper writes are immediate and timeless, much like the work of David Mallett and Gordon Bok ("Dig Down Deep" being a prime example).
The infusion of jazz and classical elements meld well with the folk singer/songwriter base that comprises her compositions, while the inherent grace and poise Tipper embodies makes the Appleton resident a force to be reckoned with here in Maine (and hopefully the rest of the country). I love ALL the songs on this release, but my favorites include "Don't Want You to Know," the title track, the bluesy "Keep it Raw," "Already Gone," "Caroline" and the album closer "Camden Market." Hats off to producer, multi-instrumentalist, recorder and mixer John Kurgan and his Mt. Desert based studio, Birdsong, for superb sound quality.
Markus Druery, Indie Shark, February 7, 2011
I recently checked out the latest CD from Maine's own Ellen Tipper, entitled "The Juggler."
Tipper brings to the table many impressive session players and plays piano herself. You will find many impressive chops along the way. Tipper can hold her own on vocals and has a falsetto that can go toe to toe with Sara McLaughlin, but more importantly she just lets it all hang out musically and is not trying to be anybody but herself.
Simply put, all songs are incredible. There's nothing like a solid musical production to get wrapped around and this is one of them. I kept waiting for a weak song to come down the pike - I eventually gave up on that.
Overall, the vibe is very upbeat and positive, but you will also find a few striking moments where you can hear a pin drop. I get the impression that Tipper and company had fun making this record, but Tipper also isn't afraid of revealing her melancholy side.
Like a drug, this CD pulls you in and when it's over you want to do it all over again. Folks out there who enjoy Tori Amos and Sara McLaughlin will fall head over heals for Ellen Tipper. "The Juggler" has everything - good playing, fun songs, amazing vocals and harmonies and music that covers all the bases - jazz folk, R&B, and even rock. Ellen Tipper has star quality and is a force to be reckoned with.
Cyrus Rhodes, Muse's Muse and Indie Music Digest, January 6, 2011
Pianist-singer-songwriter Ellen Tipper releases her latest CD entitled "The Juggler." Tipper comes to us from Appleton, Maine. This is her sophomore release.
The CD kicks things off with the song "Sweet Love," an uplifting little ditty that serves up inviting instrumentation, well-crafted melody and warm vocal presence from Tipper. This first track is like a warm and inviting welcoming mat. Track 2 shifts gears a bit with striking "Caroline," a solitary piano piece that serves up impressive musical build and a passionate vocal delivery from Tipper. Track 3, "The Juggler" shows us even more songwriting brilliance from Tipper. This piece showcases a truly amazing songwriting prowess, flawless vocal presence and well placed piano accents. As the CD slowly unfolds I can hear many musical textures reminiscent of classic vocal acts like Suzanne Vega, Amy Grant, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLaughlin and even Tori Amos. The music itself combines classic elements of Folk Rock with an aftertaste of R&B, Soul and even Jazz. The musicianship of everyone involved is clearly above the bar. You will also notice lush layers of musical instrumentation layered everywhere which besides the 4-piece standard includes banjo, harmonica, fiddle, cello, flute, saxophone, well-placed percussive accents, and impressive piano chops. The CD has some truly impresive moments on it, showcasing impressive songwriting, world class instrumentation via Tipper's honey-coated vocal delivery.
Zeroing in now on Tipper - her voice goes down smooth as she makes the vital (singer to listener) emotional connection. Her voice reminds me a lot of Suzanne Vega and Amy Grant. What's even more impressive is her piano playing abilities. Tipper can hold your attention well during some of the CD's solitary moments. This is not as easy as it sounds and when done properly will stop you in your tracks. Tipper executes the pin drop moments well, clealry proving that she is an artist worthy of your attention and praise. From my personal favorite "Dig Down Deep," to grooving "Non La" and "Keep it Raw," to passionate "Don't Want You to Know" this CD has something for just about everyone. You'll also find jazzy, R&B type ditties like "In the Kitchen." The true musical personality of Tipper shines through on pieces like "Turbulent Mind," "Caroline," "Already Gone," and "The Juggler." The CD ends with "Camden Market," a perfect final statement for the CD.
It's hard to find any real noticable weaknesses with this CD. But if could say anything to Tipper, it would be bring out more of that raw vocal passion, especially during some of the final moments of the music. It's fair to say that Tipper needs to let it hang out just a tad more vocally on some parts. When you take those kinds of risks it can be like capturing lightning in a bottle. When executed properly it will create musical moments that will never be forgotten. Track 1 is a bit short. I don't like how Track 5 fades out.
From start to finish, "The Juggler is an amazing collection of music by Ellen Tipper. Note for note, song for song, there isn't really a weak piece on this entire catalogue All pieces are short and sweet musical experiences, each one possessing its own signature groove and musical personality to call its own. The writing and playing abilities of this band are rock solid, the catalogue is highly diversified. Last but not least, the vocal presence, amazing piano playing and songwriting abilities of Ellen Tipper just makes the whole thing work. She is an infectious artist that knows how to play the piano, sing you and song, and occupy a special place in your heart with her amazing artistry.
Joel Mann, Program Manager, WERU 89.9 FM
Superbly crafted, Ellen Tipper delivers her latest release, "The Juggler" from the heart.