There’s a rousing little yell, off-microphone, at the beginning of the second song on Mark Erelli’s 12th solo album. The song, a thumper rooted in a Bo Diddley beat, is called “Can’t Stand Myself.” Despite the title, the song exudes good vibes.
On that track, the singer chides himself for letting someone down. “I’ll do better the next time around,” he promises. He’s an imperfect, honest man. His intentions are good. And he can whip his band into a joyful froth.
Erelli is a throwback of sorts, a foursquare acoustic songwriter in an age of digital audio workstations. For “Blindsided” he has amped up with a superb band, including guitarist Sadler Vaden (who plays with Jason Isbell), drummer Jamie Dick (Rhiannon Giddens), and the Boston-area bassist Zachariah Hickman (Josh Ritter, Ray LaMontagne).
“Blindsided,” out on Friday, is a rock ‘n’ soul set of songs with friction — the uncertainties of lovers, primarily. Erelli also has a knack for writing about place. (A few years ago the Massachusetts native recorded an album in tribute to the late, great Bill Morrissey, the New Hampshire songwriter who specialized in small towns.) “The Western Veil” has the big-sky feel that Bruce Springsteen was seeking on “Western Stars”; “The River Always Wins” imagines old-timers at a diner, recounting tales of “the flood of ‘42,” with Vaden’s lead guitar sounding like its own force of nature.
Mostly, though, Erelli knows the value of economizing. The title track is a simple, fortifying love song about the unexpected rush of laying eyes on someone who lights up your world, “like a shot of green in the gray of the city.”
“Rose-Colored Rearview” comes closest to the social conscience Erelli bared on “By Degrees,” the despondent song he wrote in response to a rash of mass shootings in 2018. (That song, with guest vocals from Ritter, Rosanne Cash, and several others, was a Song of the Year nominee at the Americana Awards.) “Rose-Colored Rearview” looks back on simpler times, when “we all sat down for dinner” and pledged allegiance to the flag. On the third verse, however, the narrator wonders if there’s something faulty in our nostalgia for the good old days, “like the way the truth can seem so black and white.”
It’s a solid midtempo song, like the bulk of the album. Erelli’s not going to blindside you. He’s going to give it to you straight.
“Blindsided” can be streamed here.
E-mail James Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.