Andy Elwell releases Brave Soul Friday at Bryant Lake Bowl

You would never suspect that Andy Elwell, with his colorfully tattooed arms and earnest grin--set in some good old-fashioned manly stubble--got his start in punk metal. As Elwell sips on a beer and talks about Brave Soul, his latest record filled with subtle folk-pop songs, he is anything but the picture of thrashing rocker angst.

Elwell has a gentle Southern lilt to his voice, and he has no idea where he picked that up (he was born in Hibbing and raised in Duluth). He is good at telling stories, like this one time when he met a Bob Dylan stalker once on a train from San Diego to Seattle, and he laughs at himself and imitates voices. This seems totally at odds with the somber tone he takes on Brave Soul, but somehow totally appropriate. Elwell is the sort of guy who smiles effortlessly, who is easily derailed from the topic by some tangential semi-related story, and who, you know, just by looking at him, works hard and probably undersells himself.

That last part is clear as Elwell--who, at 28, has been in a band more or less since he was 12 years old--spends more time talking about his band mates and his producer than his own music. Before he says anything about the songs on Brave Soul, he has sung the praises of his backing band Tungsten (Joe Clark, Jeff Sundquist, Jeremy Hanson) and talked about how working with producer Brett Bullion (Halloween, Alaska, Hildur Victoria, Tarlton) gave his sound a polish and kept him sane.

"I just wrote the songs, and then when we went to record them, I just let whatever feels right happen," says Elwell. "Working with Brett was great, because sometimes, you know, I'm just writing stuff, and it needs to be trimmed or smoothed."

The songs on Brave Soul are unapologetically personal, and Elwell's gruff, sandpaper tenor pairs quite nicely with the swelling arrangements and heartbreak lyrics. This is Elwell's fourth solo album since his debut with Different Places in 2007, and Elwell's songwriting has only gotten better. He is a dramatic expert: on one of the biggest songs of the album, "Home," Elwell pushes through hushed verses of setting the scene before the explosive chorus, where he is practically wailing, shredding through layers of eloquent pain (and there, maybe, a glimmer of his punk past, a small ten-second ode to the Misfits).

The real accomplishment on Brave Soul, though, is the honest feel of it. Elwell is a singer-songwriter, and sometimes it may feel like we have so many of those, but this guy does it so well. More than folk-pop, Elwell digs his feet in the ground and gives us something closer to lo-fi Americana, spiked with up-tempo beats. He might be singing about heartbreak and hard times, his songs might not give you the warm fuzzies, but there's a comfort there--like Elwell is saying, "Hey, it's okay. We're gonna be sad for a minute, but it's gonna be a beautiful sort of sadness."

"Whenever you put songs down, you feel like you're getting better at it," says Elwell, who talks with his hands in big gestures. "With this crop of songs, I feel like I've really opened myself up, like I just need to let this happen the way it's gotta happen."

Join Andy Elwell and special guests Dan Mariska and the Boys Choir for the Brave Soul CD release show at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Friday, June 1, at 9:30 p.m. $8 cover. All ages.

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