John Dorsch’s decision to kick off his album Elevation with its instrumental title song is an audacious move. It highlights the bedrock virtues of Dorsch’s creative vision – an endlessly melodic approach to arranging and textures that makes everything else possible. I’m impressed with his fluid fingerstyle guitar work, but I’m equally taken aback by the stylistic dexterity he shows listeners at every turn. It isn’t a strictly low-key acoustic-fueled release as several of the album’s fifteen songs venture into rock and pop territory. “Elevation”, however, mesmerizes as the album opener thanks to its beguiling mix of melody and virtuoso technique.

“Dragonfly” is a living and breathing track, but it has an ornate beauty surrounding it as well. Dorsch’s vocals for this song have an exquisitely light touch befitting the song’s subject without it ever sounding too precious or coy. The connections that Dorsch’s lyrics draw between himself and the dragonfly are obviously symbolic and the language frames them as an indirect love song. It harbors tremendous artistry, however, and his melodic electric guitar puts an emphatic exclamation point on the release.

The dramatics powering “Nothing to Lose” is powerful despite the low-key musical backing. It has a brisk and lightly churning pace that peaks with a strong chorus. The accompanying vocal melody complements the music quite well. He moves on into distinctly different territory with “Passage to Perth”. There are portions of the track where the arrangement has a choppy quality, but the song shifts gears into a steady mid-tempo pace that works much better. His ability to evoke a sense of place through the lyrics likewise makes this one of the album’s finest numbers.

“Save Just One More Life” has a languid and dream-like pace that underlines its near-quivering sensitivity. It’s also one of the best examples of how well his harmony vocals with his wife Dani enhance individual tracks; the close-quarters intimacy provided by their teaming gives “Save Just One More Life” haunting dimensions it would otherwise lack. “Again” has a light shuffle accentuated by Dani’s percussion and gently carries listeners aloft. It shares much of the same dreamlike ambiance that sets its predecessor apart.

Dorsch’s electric guitar adds a note of passion to “Farewell Beautiful” that it would otherwise miss. His electric playing isn’t omnipresent, however, and instead strikes a careful yet vibrant balance against the acoustic bedrock upon which he builds the song. “On My Way to Mexico” glitters thanks to exceptional musicianship, particularly later in the song, and the rolling quality of the arrangement is right for a “travelogue” such as this. It’s one of the album’s potential sleeper tracks, but many listeners will flag this performance as among the album’s best.

“Down at the Lake” may remind some of Crosby Stills Nash and Young at their stormiest. Dorsch’s electric guitar shows itself to be an ideal primary vehicle for ending the album and again mixes well with the acoustic foundation he lays down. The vocals are a little cluttered and struggle to rise above the arrangement, but it’s an overall fine way to end this release. John Dorsch’s Elevation may not get the attention it deserves, and that’s a shame because the Canadian musician has produced one of 2023’s best efforts. 

Garth Thomas