"...original & highly inventive
guitarist...a powerful, supple singer"
New York Rocker/
"The Soul is in the South,
the Heart is in India and
the Voice is in the Middle East"
EPCOR CENTRE Press
"She was playing World Music
before it was called World
Music" Calgary Herald
"She's a tough one to pigeon-
hole: her music uses the blues
as a spring-board, spanning
reggae, funk, rock...mixing them
in a steaming spicy melange.
Being a wickedly sharp slide
guitarist is only part of it."
Winnipeg Free Press, Canada
"...the first notable female slide
player...displays a more
aggresive free-form slide approach.."
Guitar Player Mag. California
"Il Faut la voir pour la croire!"
Journal de Montreal, Quebec
"McIlwaine has helped re-define
woman's place in Rock Music."
National Times, Australia
One of Rock and Blues' most
Entertainment, New York, New York
"Herewith a list of the three
greatest women slide guitar
players in the Universe:
1. Ellen McIlwaine,
2. Ellen McIlwaine,
3. Ellen McIlwaine.."
Toronto Globe & Mail, Canada
"She has single-handedly re-
invented the acoustic guitar..."
Doug Cox, Island Music Fest Courtenay B.C.
"...Robin Trower in Egypt...
a screaming-hot smorgasbord
of raw funk & blues"
Georgia Straight Vancouver B.C.
"the woman plays emotional
music. She doesn't play cute
and plastic. I like it a lot.
Walk that walk and talk that
talk, E.M." Detroit Free Press,
ATLANTIC JAZZ FEST HALIFAX
by Stephen Pedersen, Chronicle Herald
"...Ellen McIlwaine's unique marriage of blues, rock, folk and world music, especially that of India and the Middle East, gave a jammed-out audience at the Holiday Inn festival stage a full program of bottle-neck slides and scoops, high notes catapulted into the stratosphere at the end of phrases, and even a Janis Joplin screech as needed.
McIlwaine's voice is unique, but so is her guitar playing. She tirelessly retunes it to give her guitar maximum richness and resonance, especially toward the darker end of the tonal spectrum. It allows her to sound like an Indian sitar or a Turkish saz (lute) while her voice polishes back and forth over the augmented minor second that gives the harmonic minor scale its character, and Turkish or Persian music their melancholy wail.
She uses the bottle-neck (a metal sleeve over her left hand little finger) not only to make the chords sag and wobble, but to bend scale notes around for an authentic Indian melodic effect. Clearly McIlwaine loves this moldable sound, and loves to slow it down so we can all savour its dizzy stagger. With McIlwaine the device is pure expression, not just a way of ornamenting a tune. Best of all, McIlwaine brings a freshness to her blues... her own personal fusion of West and East: a potent, imaginative and suggestive mix that introduces the somewhat new at the same time as it refreshes the well-known.
McIlwaine is a first-class scat-singer...especially as she mixes in Japanese syllables ad lib. She does it because she can, I suppose. But also because this remarkably innovative musician, as with every note she plays and sings, just loves the way it sounds. No audience can resist her."
A WILD RIDE WITH THE GODDESS OF SLIDE
by Ian Hannington, The Georgia Straight, Vancouver
"Is there a better recipe for chunky, funky fun than drums, bass, a guitar, and suitably raunchy vocals? Jimi Hendrix and Cream-era Eric Clapton, among others, demonstrated that the stripped-down power trio can be a force to behold.
Ellen McIlwaine came out of that era (she even played with Hendrix), and on Friday she shared her influences proudly, especially in a second-set medley of tunes by her favourite musicians, from the Isley Brothers to Sly and the Family Stone to Parliament Funkadelic. But fortunately McIlwaine isn't planted too firmly in the '70's-this being the '90's, she spices up the mix with some reggae, Middle Eastern and Indian rhythms and vocals. Even those flavours, however, aren't the result of latching onto new trends; McIlwaine was exposed to various types of music while growing up in Japan in the '50's and '60's. In fact, "We the People", a "raga" she played-on a Guild acoustic she bought in 1966 for $50, was written during her formative years.
"The Mummy Theme/Egyptian Blues" (written for the Tom Cone play True Mummy) sounded...like Robin Trower in Egypt with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan...whose vocal stylings, McIlwaine said, were the main influence for the song. McIlwaine's voice, which ranges from raunch blues to reggae to scat yodeling, is part of what makes her unique among power-trio leaders.
But most of all, it's the guitar. When she let fly with some trademark searing slide during the opening number, "Take Me to the River", it was difficult to imagine the band could maintain the intensity throughout the evening. But it did. With solid, meaty backing from locals Lee Oliphant on bass and Pat Steward on drums, the Calgary-based McIlwaine served up a screaming-hot smorgasbord of raw funk and blues, from Hendrix's "May This Be Love" to Bill Withers's "Lean on Me", not to mention her own standout songs. And just to show that her voice is an instrument in its own right, she gave John Lee Hooker's "Crawling Kingsnake" a wild a capella treatment...When something is this tasty, you really can't complain about having it served up at least once a year."
by Spider Barbour, Woodstock Times, NY
"...Ellen McIlwaine is roots-ramming rock'n'roll: Ellen McIlwaine is Down-and-Dirty Delta- Swamp Slide-Blues: Ellen McIlwaine is the whole-and-nothing-but-the-soul-banging gospel truth...
For forty-odd years McIlwaine has played either solo or as her power trio in all the best dives and soft-seaters in the big cities and small towns of Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia & Japan. Here on Saturday night, E.M. will bring in long-time associates from Albany New York, Mitch Elrod on bass and Al Cash on drums. Sunday she goes it alone, as featured artist in Judy Whitfield's Women in Music series. I strongly advise going both nights, as Ellen will be doing some different material solo, including several a capella tunes, which I can say from experience are magnificent...
Okay, as long as I'm waxing superlative: to my ears Ellen McIlwaine is the best singer in rock and always has been. I didn't say "best female singer", I said "best singer". (She's the best talker, too, by the way.) There's the quality of her voice, which is like the greatest liquor in the universe, only the drink doesn't exist to match that voice. Then there's what she does with it, which is everything from warm-mother love to hot-lover love to African scatting to the voices of God and the Devil and the best alien life-forms. You've never heard singing like this.
Did I mention she plays guitar too?...McIlwaine to me is the best power slide guitar player happening...It's a big sound, warm and wet as a Samoan Tsunami, cold and cutting as an Alberta Clipper, strong as the Jet Stream, wild as El Nino. Yep, Ellen McIlwaine plays guitar and sings, and the combination is huge and beautiful, like the whales' song and the birth of stars..."