Scott Taylor reviews Across the Water by Carwyn Ellis, a solo piano album which seeks to raise awareness of the sacrifices made by those crossing the sea in search of a better life.
Carwyn Ellis is a man who seems to have his hand in nearly everything and anything he can. His start came with Colorama, an Indie Alternative project from the 2000’s, but he now works with his modern group Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 which merges Welsh lyrics with South American instrumentation and influences. He has collaborated with so many musicians and artists that it is utterly staggering, including Saint Etienne, Shane McGowan, and Unkle (to name but a few). He also tours with a group you may have heard of. A band headed by one Chrissie Hynde: The Pretenders. His output is mind blowing, across his many bands and collaborations he has developed a truly diverse catalogue of music and yet Across the Water is possibly the most beautiful and moving album he has released to date.
Across the Water is a piano album focused on the journey and dangers that migrants and refugees face to reach Europe, and the destruction, death, and hopelessness that often accompanies such asylum seeking. The album has a haunting beauty. The playing is impeccable, and Ellis’ voice carries great weight. It reminds us that despite the media cycle moving on from the migrant crisis, it is still a grim reality for so many. Every day there are migrants and refugees that still travel great distances and over the perilous seas, leaving everything behind for the hope of a better life. This album shows the despair and destruction that comes when such attempts fail, such as in ‘Seventy Four’ which recalls the death of 74 migrants in Libya from drowning back in 2017. The album has some instrumental tracks which help to set the vibe of the album and allow you time to think about the messages that this piece of work delivers, whilst the vocal tracks tell the stories of the refugees and serves as a way for Ellis to beg for us to help those in need. As the Bandcamp store page for Across the Water states, the tracks with vocals are ‘pleas for more empathy and compassion for refugees or migrants, whoever or wherever they may be’.
The album stands out from the lengthy discography of Ellis’ in its heavy reliance on piano, and its focus on the topic of migration means that there is very little else that sounds or feels like it. Instrumentally it sounds quite different from his other work, but it does share a coherent sense of presence. That said, once the lyrical component is added, it becomes its own entity. Ellis has crafted an album that is completely individual, and Across the Water must be his most moving piece to date.
In a world where migrants and refugees can so often be demonised and used for racist political rhetoric, it isn’t hard to see why someone would want to try and help connect others with the stories and feelings behind the choices these people make. The song ‘The Boy On The Beach’ is dedicated to Alan Kurdi, the young boy who was found dead and photographed which led to global outcry about the migrant crisis. This and ‘Seventy Four’ are highlights on the album for their emotional poignancy, and ‘Bound for Lampedusa’, despite being a cover, is the star of the album. It shows the deep levels that migrants are willing to go, and drives the message home that we need to do more to help those escaping the conflicts around them. (Something this album helps to do, may I add, for 50% of the albums sales on Bandcamp go to the Oasis Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers).
Across the Water stands tall and separate from Carwyn Ellis’ vast body of work – a sign of a seasoned and talented musician putting his artistic strengths towards furthering a cause he feels passionately about. It is stripped back and sparse while remaining one of the most intense and full-on albums I have ever listened to. The vocals are mesmerising and astonishingly deep, and the album ends after just 35 minutes, at which point you will probably want to start back from the beginning, and let this whole album wash over you again and take you on an emotional, heartfelt yet dangerous journey Across The Sea.
Across the Water by Carwyn Ellis is available on Bandcamp.