Private Eleanor: On top of the world
Thanks to the Enoch Pratt Central Library's local music collection, I just discovered my favorite local band: Private Eleanor. And as luck would have it, they no longer exist. Typical me: I don't miss my water 'til my well runs dry. The album I heard was their fourth and final recording from 2007, Sweethearting. As the band is currently on hiatus, it remains their swan song in absentia.
The band's introspective dreampop sound has been compared favorably to everyone from American Analog Set to Yo Lo Tengo, with nodding winks along the way to Big Star, The Go-Betweens, Mojave3, Red House Painters, Elliott Smith, and Wilco. Me, I hear SF's Sneetches in there for some reason. Whatever musical signposts they point to along the way, Private Eleanor's sound is (was?) definitely Twee with a capital T. And I like that. I mean, how can you not love a band that names an album Deciduous?
PE performing live
Though they've gotten some good national press, my favorite description of Private Eleanor comes from the Baltimore City Paper's Jess Harvel, who's a good a music writer as there is around town:
"Private Eleanor makes music so perfect for solitary drives on the cusp of late night/early morning that you want to rewind back a decade and listen to the band's music on an unlabeled C90 in your old beater's tape deck...The drizzly, cinematic sweep of Stahl's road-weary, twentysomething heartbreak is more sharply observed than ever, set to a lush swirl of bells, vibraphone, Hammond organ, and Rhodes piano meticulously arranged for the tingling of spines, crisply recorded and hitting all the band's now well-established sweet spots...Each song works beautifully as a little standalone slice of baroque indie-pop."
- Jess Harvel, Baltimore City Paper
PE performing live at Fletchers
According to the band's blog circa June 2009, leader Austin Stahl recorded a solo record that's available for free download at AustinStahl.net.
"It's a record I made by myself at home, just for fun (much like the earliest PE stuff) but I liked it enough to want to share it with you. This is the first music I've ever released under the name Austin Stahl. Go download it! If you like Private Eleanor music at all, I think you'll enjoy it." Heads up, Stahlinists!
Private Eleanor's back catalog is now available digitally at their digital store: privateeleanor.bandcamp.com.
Their first three records had never been available digitally, until now... And their first album, Deciduous (2002), had been out of print completely, unavailable in ANY form, for over five years. As Austin Stahl says, "Well, we've remedied that at long last. Go get them all!"
Here's the band's press bio from the Beechfields record label.
PRIVATE ELEANOR BIOGRAPHY
“Built upon sturdy melodies and the type of harmonies rarely practiced these days, they dared to be genuine and pretty, hurt and poppy, confused yet direct. They made pop that the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Mojave 3 would happily call their own.”
—John Foster, BrightestYoungThings.com
Private Eleanor was a band from Baltimore, Maryland, who over the course of little more than five years was responsible for four records of unfashionably lovely folk-pop. For now, they’re on indefinite hiatus, having left behind little but those remarkable records – full of sly hooks, sparkling textures, and evocative, poetic lyrics as good as any you’re likely to hear.
Songwriter Austin Stahl began the band on a four-track cassette recorder in the bedroom of a Baltimore rowhouse, crafting a pair of intimate albums with the help of a rotating cast of friends. Stahl was soon hailed as the city’s best songwriter by the local City Paper, and began performing live with a full-time band. The higher-fidelity No Straight Lines followed in 2005, gaining slightly wider release (via Maryland label The Beechfields) and earning critical accolades on a national level (75orless.com called it “the final album Elliott Smith should have made.”). Before long, the band was bringing its subtle, harmony-laden pop songs to half-empty rooms throughout the nation.
Sweethearting was released in 2007. Recorded and mixed with the help of T.J. Lipple (Aloha) and Chad Clark (Beauty Pill), the album was performed mostly live in the studio, and showcased more than ever the vocal harmonies between Stahl and fellow singer Marian Glebes. The shifting backdrop provided by Chris Merriam (drums), Bruce Sailer (bass), and Drew Stevens (Rhodes/piano/organ) made for the band’s most varied and sonically deep record – at times the hushed vocals and vintage keyboards call to mind American Analog Set; other moments resonate with the quiet emotion of Ida or Red House Painters; some of the louder, catchier songs could pass for Yo La Tengo tackling your favorite Big Star tunes. It was the band’s best-received record to date, but they were unable to tour behind it and went on hiatus soon after.
As of this writing, Private Eleanor has no current plans to perform or record. Two new compilations feature what are, for now, the band’s final recordings: Love Goes On, a tribute to Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens, for which Private Eleanor was chosen to contribute a cover of the title track; and This City of Neighborhoods, a new compilation from the Beechfields Record Label.
The Beechfields Record Label
P.O. Box 6732
Towson, MD 21285
AUSTIN STAHL CONTACT