Walking with the Beggar Boys is supposed to be the album where the indie-pop group Elf Power comes down to earth and abandons the hippie-mystical trappings of its early albums. Let's listen to some lyrics from the title track, delivered in a call-and-response between Elf Power vocalist Andrew Rieger and guest Vic Chesnutt: I was you/You were me/He was she/She was he/They were us/We were they/It was real/We were free/I was God/God is cool/God is you/God is me/I was one/We were two/They were three/Three is three.
Pretty straightforward, huh? Or how about this refrain from "The Stranger": "Once there was a stranger/Who stopped me in the street/He told me love was in his head/And then he ceased to be."
Not exactly the stripped-down storytelling of Bruce Springsteen. But the amazing thing is that this album is the work of a more down-to-earth Elf Power. Gone are the Narnia-inspired concepts of When the Red King Comes and the brilliant, shimmering psychedelica of A Dream in Sound (produced by the great Dave Fridmann and easily one of the most underappreciated albums of the late '90s). Elf Power has managed to hold on to enough of its outsider personality to make a (relatively) unadorned album without becoming another cardboard rock cutout, a fate its Elephant 6 compatriots Apples in Stereo met with their "breakout" album, Velocity of Sound.
Instead we get a gentle album that imagines an alternate universe where it is the Byrds, not MC5, who are the rock template du jour. It's nice to see a band that can change its sound and make a small step toward the mainstream while still following its own persistent muse.