First Look: New Mark Eitzel Album

 

 

Don’t Be A Stranger,
out this week on Merge, finds the erstwhile American Music Club leader returning
to a full-band production that proves a winning formula.

 

By Michael Toland

 

Though recording circumstances and labels can be erratic, one
thing that has marked Mark Eitzel’s career is consistency. Sure, some of his
records, in and out of American Music Club, are stronger than others. But it’s
rare that his muse abandons him when it comes to putting pen to paper and
fingers to fretboard. So throwing words like “return to form” around can be
misleading.

 

That said, Don’t Be a
Stranger
, his first solo record that’s not self-released since 2005’s Candy Ass, really is one of his best.
Recorded in the aftermath of both a heart attack and the dissolution of AMC
(again), the album marks a return to full-band production, after a few sparse
records that drifted between acoustics and electronica. Produced by Sheldon
Gomberg, who’s worked with Rickie Lee Jones and Ben Harper, the record boasts
the best sound an Eitzel solo record has had in at least a decade. Accompanied
by a skilled but tasteful band, Eitzel rests his tunes in beds of piano and
acoustic guitar, with a sedate but still propulsive rhythm section that
includes Attractions/Imposters drummer Pete Thomas. The arrangements give the
tracks a sense of fullness, but with the austerity that has marked his best
work. Indeed, the record in his catalog that Stranger calls to mind the most is AMC’s spare but lovely California, arguably Eitzel’s first
masterpiece.

 

 


Mark Eitzel – I Love You But You’re Dead by MergeRecords

 

 

As for the tunes themselves, it appears that a
life-threatening health situation and the final (?) death of his long-running
band have been inspiring. His lyrics ruminate on his usual themes – love,
death, self-worth and everything else that makes life worth living. But he’s
married them to melodies more memorable than anything he’s done in some time –
sonorous, yes, even sedate, but instantly appealing and likely to stick
post-listen. The result: gorgeous tunes like “Nowhere to Run,” “Oh Mercy” and
“Lament For Bobo the Clown” that entice with their surface beauty, then beguile
with the deeper truths explored. Best of all is “I Love You, But You’re Dead,”
a gimmicky title put on a reminiscence that revels in the details of its rock
club setting as much as it does in the ambivalence in the memory itself. It’s a
song that crystalizes its writer’s strengths into one brilliant number.

 

As previously noted, Eitzel’s work is rarely weak, but Don’t Be a Stranger finds him hitting
another peak. For fans this is a must, but newcomers would also find this a
rewarding place to begin.

 


 

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