Written by James Killen
I have been following Crystal and Pete Damore (Ordinary Elephant) for a couple of years now and was eager to jump in on their Kickstarter campaign for their newest disc, “Honest”. From the day it arrived, it went to the CD player in my truck and lived there for over two weeks….honestly. We all expect folk singers to help interpret the things that are going on around us, to take on the issues of society. It seems that nobody told Crystal Hariu-Damore that she didn’t have to take them all on at once.
“Honest” is a collection of some of the most poignant, imaginative and well written songs that I have heard in a long time. The collection starts out with “I Come From” which is a series of images of Crystal’s mother arranged in a tribute to her and the childhood that she gave to Crystal. “Scars that We Keep” is a very powerful narrative that tells of prejudice that many of us are born into and that we must learn to overcome. I am in awe of Crystal’s imagination in songwriting as she turned a visit to the Viet Nam memorial wall in DC into a very personal story of a veteran and his struggles with PTSD in “The War”.
The Damores present a very real depiction of the things that go through a person’s mind in everyday life as they struggle with depression on “Shadow”. “Jenny and James” are two more characters that are fleshed out with details that bring them to life in a song about a bi-racial couple, or really any star-crossed lovers. “Harriet” is outwardly a song about a horse, but is also a historical peek into what life was like during reconstruction and the westward expansion. “I’m Alright” is a tribute to a friend that became a courageous inspiration as she faced a terminal disease.
“Worth the Weight” is a fine song about perspective and deciding what parts of life are important and teaching that perspective to children. “Rust Right Through” takes a hard look at the things in our life that we come to depend on and what happens when those things are no longer there.
The tune that took me to task emotionally the most from this album is “If I’m Being Honest”. It deals full on with what it is like to balance a child’s innocence with the social issues that are threatening a world of love and justice that we would wish for our young ones. Ordinary Elephant ends “Honest” with “Hope to be that Happy”, a tribute to the positive outlook that Crystal’s grandmother had in her later years.
As I sit and read back over the thematic abbreviations of the songs that I’ve written here, I can’t help but feel that I’ve cheapened them somehow. A listener needs to hear all of the lyrics, framed by the unique harmonies and Pete’s simple but powerful instrumental flourishes to really appreciate the art of “Honest”. I have spent hours listening to this record in detail and I don’t anticipate tiring of it.
I heard Crystal explain where the band name came from at a performance recently. She said “There is no such thing as an ordinary elephant.” As you listen to Ordinary Elephant’s songs, it becomes obvious that they have the vision to see many common things in life as having special significance and worthy of vivid exploration.