Release Date: Jan 27, 2017
Record label: Merge
So much of Mark Eitzel’s music exists in spite of itself. Sung in a husky register between a whisper and a croon, his songs are filled with characters willing themselves to disappear, transmitting from a translucent state between existence and nothingness. At the beginning of his last album, 2012’s Don’t Be a Stranger, a woman approached Eitzel to say, “I love you, but you’re dead,” a six-word phrase that sums up the tension in Eitzel’s body of work, both in his seminal band American Music Club and throughout his fruitful solo career.
Released a year after Mark Eitzel was nearly claimed by a heart attack, 2012's Don't Be a Stranger was an impressive album that was his strongest bit of record making in years. But the album sometimes suggested Eitzel was pacing himself, that he wasn't working at full strength as a singer or instrumentalist, and its tentative qualities seemed built into the songs and the music. Four-and-a-half years later, 2017's Hey Mr.
The music biz never stops sniffing for the next sound, trend and Big Thing. The tenth solo album by Mark Eitzel - former frontman and songwriter-in-chief of San Francisco’s now sadly disbanded American Music Club, a cult hero for all who prefer their music with the sunny side down - proves that sometimes, there’s nothing as appealing as sticking with what you know and have thoroughly mastered over the years. Then again, Hey Mr Ferryman isn't exactly business as usual.
The concept of Mark Eitzel as the definitive critically acclaimed, commercially ignored songwriter has never really lost traction. Partly because Eitzel has yet to achieve global fame but also because he remains a staggeringly good songwriter. While his American Music Club era(s) saw Eitzel canonised as the heart-wrenching, torture singer of love and fury, Hey Mr.
Mark Eitzel has always been a contrarian. As leader of American Music Club, he declared, on that band’s 1993 major-label debut, Mercury, that “I lay all my songs at Johnny Mathis’s feet.” Released at the height of the grunge/alternative commercial moment, many listeners didn’t get the reference; fewer got the joke. Eitzel’s solo output has been equally challenging, undermining preconceptions and frustrating expectations while, nonetheless, establishing him as an artist always worth watching.
Over 30-plus years of proving his gift for lyrically adroit character sketches set to some pretty transcendent, unpredictable musical backdrops, Mark Eitzel has proved a little too headstrong, too good even, to play the games required for mainstream success. Hey Mr Ferryman sees the former American Music Club frontman deliver his most accessible album in some time, while retaining his edge. Who else would call a song In My Role As Professional Singer And Ham? That’s one of the highlights here – an elegant bruise of a song rendered vivid by swirling strings straight out of Fantasia.
Mark Eitzel—Hey Mr. Ferryman (Merge)“I spent the last ten years, trying to waste half an hour,” Mark Eitzel asserts early on in this tenth solo album, his fine, mellifluous voice pouring oil over the acid reflux cleverness. Like many of Eitzel’s compositions, “The Last Ten Years” goes down like a much simpler pop ballad than it is, the grace of the melody covering sharp edges in the lyrics.