Dennis Ellsworth

Dennis Ellsworth has never made the same album twice, but with each new collection of songs he assembles, listeners can always expect to be taken on an emotional journey through the Charlottetown-based artist’s lyrics and melodies.

On his latest album, Modern Hope, Ellsworth borrows from the mystical world of British folk to craft 10 mini-masterpieces, some of which are barely above a whisper. Part of that songwriting approach was a reaction to the challenges our society has faced in recent years, along with Ellsworth welcoming a new baby into his family in 2022.

In order to properly handle such personal material, he turned to an old friend on the other side of the country, Leeroy Stagger, to serve a producer. Together with a standout cast of musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Scott Smith, drummer Geoff Hicks and bassist Jeremy Holmes, they set up at Vancouver’s Afterlife Studios (formerly the legendary Mushroom Studios) in April 2022 where they recorded an entire album live off the floor in only four days.

Surprisingly, given Modern Hope’s airy sound, Dennis describes its overall creation as an intense, heavy effort. “I had been listening to a lot of Ber Jansch, John Martyn and Nick Drake, and I wanted to write melancholy acoustic based songs in open tunings, So Leeroy and I gave ourselves some parameters, booked the studio for a week, and I started writing.”

Ellsworth continues ‘At first, nothing was coming. Writing at home during the day in not usually something I can make time for because of a busy family life, but after I wrote ‘Moving To Space’ I felt like I’d found the vibe. For the next three weeks straight I’d write between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am and text voice memos to Leeroy. I wrote the last song ‘What A World’ after watching the Kenneth Branagh film Belfast on the flight to Vancouver and Leeroy and I finished it once we got together. When the album was completely done, everything just felt exactly as it was meant to be – natural and not overwrought.”

It is quite remarkable how Dennis and company were able to craft such a stunning work of art in such a concentrated block of time. It brings to mind another of Modern Hope’s touchstones, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, and from the free-flowing title track that opens the album – punctuated by Holmes’s upright bass – it’s easy to be similarly transported by the music. Other standouts on Modern Hope are the jangly “Luna’, the deeply grooving ‘Pressure’, and the heart swelling song ‘Hold You Close’, containing perhaps Ellsworth’s finest vocal performance on the album.

Modern Hope is, in the truest sense, an album that is, its power comes across most effectively when listened to in a single sitting. That seems to be a rare accomplishment these days, but Dennis Ellsworth has never been one to follow trends. ‘Sometimes a collection of songs just comes out feeling one way and they all work together,” he says. Most of the time, whatever I am doing is decided somewhere between the conscious and subconscious. I don’t want to assume some other identity… Whatever I do, I want it to come from my natural voice.”