The Upshot: Not to be confused with ‘80s Chris de Burgh’s ‘80s hit “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” it’s a remarkable sonic collaboration, with erstwhile Suede guitarist Bernard Butler helping craft some of the erstwhile American Music Club frontman’s best music in ages. Released via the equally remarkable Tarheel—support the home team, everyone—label, Merge.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Back in the mid-‘90s, erstwhile American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel made an album in collaboration with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who co-wrote all the tunes and provided instrumentation. Now, a couple of decades later, Eitzel re-enters collaborative mode, this time with producer and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler as his co-pilot.
Eitzel’s work has often veered from experimentally atmospheric to pop accessible, often within the same album, but with Butler in tow, he leans forcefully to the latter. Together, the pair ranges from vibrant rock (“The Last Ten Years,” “Let Me Go”), psychedelic pop (“La Llorna”) and even bossa nova (“Just Because,” “An Angel’s Wing Brushed the Penny Slots”). Of course, the heart of any Eitzel record is the ballads, and he’s in rare form here – “The Road,” “Mr. Humphries” and the alternately sardonic and poignant (Eitzel’s sweet spot) “In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham” may be some of his best work in his long, fruitful career. Butler gives him lush backdrops that perfectly complement his ruminations on love, death, self-worth and gay icons, and Eitzel responds to the arrangements with singing that’s a model of controlled emotion.
Eitzel and Butler work so well together one hopes that this collaboration doesn’t end with the remarkable Hey Mr [sic] Ferryman.
DOWNLOAD: “The Road,” “The Last Ten Years,” “In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham”