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  • Jonathan Widran

ELLEN BUKSTEL, Legacy of Love

Politically active, socially conscious, wildly incisive and humorous as all get out throughout her fascinating and influential, multiple award winning career, Ellen Bukstel has covered all the hot button issues we as human beings and Americans can’t ignore. She’s been pro pot and folkin’ hot (the HMMA nominated “Who’s The Pusher Now?”, with 50,000+ YouTube views), a frustrated citizen (“They Lost My Vote”), whimsical about menopause (“Is It Hot in Here…Or is it Me?”), tough on domestic violence (“You’re Not Better Than Me”) and bold in the face of uncomfortable aspects of world history (the Music To Life songwriting competition winner “By My Silence”). When pop great Michael Bolton called her “an amazing artist and spirit,” he was simply the most famous person among thousands who have recognized her contributions as a voice of her, and all subsequent, generations

On Legacy of Love, the Florida based singer-songwriter’s highly anticipated new full length collection, Ellen takes us beyond all the whimsy, activism and social commentary to paint a multi-faceted, emotionally impactful portrait of a life that has had its share of pain, struggle and challenges, but has been remarkably and gracefully well lived. It’s a heartfelt, sentimental (but never sappy and always insightful) journey of love, loss, getting old (artfully so!), with a little protest, a little politics and always a little humor.

True to her trademark way of challenging her audience to dig deep and embrace life’s magical and maddening day to day rollercoaster, the epic 17-track collection (“going small” to accommodate short attention spans just isn’t in her DNA) doesn’t follow one specific theme or narrative. It’s more a gathering of fresh and dynamic chestnuts Ellen’s been gathering since the release of her last full length work Daddy’s Little Girl. Legacy of Love, like her previous album and the majority of her recordings, was helmed by her oldest son, Brett Segal, a veteran drummer, sound engineer and producer.

The story behind the title track “Legacy of Love” gives us a deeper insight into where Ellen’s heart is coming from on this album. The song takes us back several decades to the great loss that Ellen, then the mother of three young children, suffered when her beloved husband Doug, a hemophiliac who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, died at the age of 36. His loss was truly what sparked her career as an activist and artist.

Ellen shared her grief and commitment to Doug’s legacy at the time via a powerful, heartrending poem that her brother Gary created a stunning melody for. Ellen’s poignant but life affirming performance of “Legacy of Love” combines with other songs about family to form the emotional core of the project. These include the alternately wistful and encouraging/optimistic tune for her daughter growing up without her father (“Margo’s Song”), a soulful reflection on her lifelong musical kinship and frequent partnership with Gary (“Singin’ With You”) and a subtle, gorgeous arrangement of the standard “Nature Boy,” which she remembers her dad singing to her and Gary as children before they went to sleep.

Ellen sets the tone for the album with the spirited opening number “Journey,” which rolls like a mosaic of her hard won philosopies of life, including lines like “There is no destination, so I just keep movin’ on.” Though there’s no intended linear narrative per se, we can feel her emotional freedom via her soaring vocal harmonies with Tom Prasada Rao on “Let It Go” and the softening of her heart as she embraces the reality that “Every Day” is a new beginning. Part of the joy of Legacy of Love is the way Ellen and her cadre of talented musicians mixed passionate ballads like “A Few Small Miracles” with freewheeling, knee-slappin’ toe tappers like “Gonna Live My Life” (a song about defying age via a youthful spirit) and “”Goin’ Down To The River,” a playful ode to life these past few years since moving from south to north Florida.

Ellen being Ellen, there’s no way she could completely eschew a dip into the unique prism through which she views politics. Fans of this Ellen – and they are legion – are treated to the lilting pop/rocker “Peaceful Activist,” which is inspired by the way people in this age of hyper bipartisanship “defriend” people of differing opinions. Those who need an infusion of her biting wit are rewarded, deep into the tracking on Legacy of Love, with the ingenious, snappy and hipster “Opposites Attract,” the ultimate “I’m okay after a breakup” song.

Legacy of Love also includes two Ellen classics that are also longtime fan favorites, “By My Silence” and “Who’s the Pusher Now?” “By My Silence,” co-written and sung with good friend and award-winning songwriter Nick Annis, is a gut-wrenching piece about the regret of keeping a fearful silence during the Holocaust. It won the 2008 Public Domain Foundation Music To Life songwriting competition, launched by Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul & Mary fame) to discover songwriters who address important social issues. “Who’s The Pusher Now?” takes clever, pointed jabs at our government’s hypocritical war on drugs, big pharma and the dark, little known realities of quota and profit driven private prisons. The incendiary song was nominated for two Hollywood Music in Media Awards (including Music in Visual Media for its video), a Libby Award for Best Music Video and was a finalist in the International Acoustic Music Awards.

“I open up every show with ‘Journey,’ which speaks to my philosophy that you never know what’s coming down the road,” says Ellen. “So many things come at you so quickly, and it’s up to us to learn to understand that the amazing highs and difficult lows are all part of what makes life what it is. Since we can’t control what’s going to happen, I’m not going to waste time worrying about it. Wherever I am at any given time, whether I’m in the middle of a desert or entertaining people at a concert, that’s where my heart is.”

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