Local songwriter Eric Andersen is an agreeable throwback to an earlier era—particularly the softly rockin’, piano-led sounds of ’70s singer-songwriters, like Elton John, Billy Joel and Randy Newman. He also has the unerring knack for melody of Ben Folds, and a bit of his satirical lyrical wisdom. “Turn off Your Brain,” for example, the upbeat opener of Close to Home, Andersen’s new seven-song super set, is an ode to getting fucked up (at least that’s one interpretation).
More than half the disc is re-recorded versions of songs that Andersen has previously released. “Milo” is from his 2010 album Plane Rides & Ocean Tides. “Blue Green,” “Soul Sucker” and “Fortnight,” are from Backstory, an album released earlier this year by the songwriting collective/acoustic rock group The Novelists, a band of which Andersen is an integral part.
But it’s a testament to Andersen’s ever sharpening development as a songwriter that the best songs on this record are the three new cuts. In addition to “Turn off Your Brain,” there’s the mini prog rock epic “Reign,” and “Save Face,” easily the disc’s best song, which finds the usually sunny Andersen in a plaintive, even mournful mood. The album gathers together many top-tier local musicians, including Andersen’s band mates in The Novelists, as well as local chanteuses Whitney Myer and Kate Cotter, guitarist Eric Stangeland, and drummer-who-can-play-anything Jason Thomas. There are also guest spots from some semi-famous guys, like Daryl Stuermer, of Phil Collins’ band.
But on “Save Face”—again, the album’s best song—it’s just Andersen’s voice and piano, a minor key, a slow tempo, a haunted melody, and some very minimal string accompaniment (it sounds like just two cellos). Lyrically, there are hints of condescension—the song seems to be directed at a spurned ex-lover who doesn’t appear to handle the break-up very well—but the melody and arrangement are so sad and spacious as to invite repeated listens. Sometimes less is more.
Often the key to good rock music is not individual musicianship, but the relationships among the band members. Singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Charles Mallett and drummer Mike Adamo are both solid—even exceptional—musicians, but their project YeahNo, at least on their new album, Leveraging a Down Market, only sounds like half a band.
The sonic architecture is great, with some fantastic guitar playing, sometimes many overdubs worth, and moody keyboard and bass backdrops. But Mallett’s singing voice is limited, and his songwriting is strong on arrangements but weak in structure. In other words, it works well in space, but not in time. It sounds good, but doesn’t go anywhere.
If Mallett and Adamo hook up with a stronger vocalist, with a good sense of strong structure, there’s a lot of potential here. But for now, it’s a Yin in search of a Yang.