Mark Eitzel’s tenth solo album and his first in three years, Hey Mr Ferryman, will be released on January 27, 2017, by Merge Records.
Hey Mr Ferryman is Eitzel’s first full studio album recorded entirely in London. It was made at 355 Studios with Mercury Prize winner Bernard Butler (ex-Suede, McAlmont & Butler), who has produced and/or recorded albums with Tricky, Ben Watt, Bert Jansch, Edwyn Collins, and more. Butler produced Hey Mr Ferryman and played all of the electric guitar, bass, and keyboard parts on the album.
Butler wrote of the process: “I spent a fortnight on my own in the studio seeing where I could go, how to expand every mood, make the dark songs darker, the drama bigger, the joy more celebratory. I was elated when I sent initial mixes off and Mark was happy. The greatest gift for a producer is the trust of the artist with their work. I knew from the off with this record that the songwriting was in a different league. It was for me to find beautiful frames for each story.”
Hey Mr Ferryman features the vivid melodies long associated with Eitzel’s former band American Music Club (a.k.a. AMC), which remains a cult favorite to this day, as well as Butler’s distinctive guitar that serves to complement Eitzel’s expressive vocals. Of that voice, Pitchfork once wrote: “If Leonard Cohen’s voice is a story about the passage of time and Levon Helm’s is a story about losing what is most precious to you, Eitzel’s is about the circuitous roads we take in search of ourselves.”
As both a solo artist and the frontman for AMC, Mark Eitzel is a celebrated lyricist and champion of the downtrodden. A hauntingly evocative singer, he has earned even greater notoriety for his brilliance as a composer, combining the intensity of Ian Curtis, the pastoral beauty of Nick Drake, and the melodrama of Scott Walker and Jacques Brel to build one of the most impressive and darkly poetic bodies of song in the modern pop canon.
“The songs on this record are about celebrating musicians and music, about misogyny, the long shadow of history, getting one’s head out of one’s ass,” quips Eitzel on the themes of Ferryman. “Also oceans, blood, skies, hearts, gay pioneers, carpenters, weeping women, and how death waits for you even in the happiest place on earth: Las Vegas.”
The album opens with “The Last Ten Years” which includes the lyric “Spent the last ten years / Trying to waste half an hour” which, like the best verses, will leave you pensive and wanting more. The album continues with a sensuous love song (“An Answer”), an ode to the plight of the working musician (“The Road”), the growing political divide in America (“In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham”), the frustration of ripped trousers (“Let Me Go”), and “Sleep From My Eyes,” which Mark describes as “an experiment to write a love song from the point of view of someone in a coma. As you do.”
“As I wrote these songs, I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles; painted two houses; spent all my money; threw away everything I owned; traveled to and from London, New York, and Austin; performed various shows; learned ‘I’m Your Man’ by Leonard Cohen for a friend’s wedding (it was so hard); replaced the battery and the hard drive in my perpetually dying computer; gained and lost and gained 20 pounds; went to the doctor a lot; moved to the mountains; moved to New York; and ran my car into the ground,” continues Eitzel. “I just finished writing my next album and have started recording the demos to send to my 50 friends.”
Mark Eitzel has released over 15 albums of original material with American Music Club and as a solo artist. The Guardian has called him “America’s greatest living lyricist,” and Rolling Stone once gave him their Songwriter of the Year award. Originally formed in 1983, AMC released seven albums before breaking up in 1995. The band reunited in 2004 and subsequently signed to Merge for two full-lengths, Love Songs for Patriots and The Golden Age. In April of 2012 while working on a solo record, Eitzel suffered a heart attack which forced him to slow down and delayed the album’s release. That fall, Merge put out Don’t Be a Stranger to much critical acclaim, and in 2013, a newly healthy Eitzel embarked on what proved to be the most successful tour of his career to date. In 2015, he wrote music for Simon Stephens’ Song from Far Away, his second collaboration with the English playwright, and began work on the forthcoming Hey Mr Ferryman.
Howe Gelb’s Future Standards
Began in Amsterdam
ended in New York City
and in between,
was all Tucson
These are ‘Future Standards’ by The Howe Gelb Piano Trio, taking an outsider view of early gospel and rhythm and blues both part of the American musical socialization that he touched on with 2006’s ‘Sno Angel’. Now he’s on a jazz-tinged trip, bending the genre, taking it back to his shack, giving an innovative fine tune in the lean to garage.
Don’t forget, Gelb is a man who’s done acoustic sets where he sings into the pick up of his guitar, he’s rocked out with Giant Sand, re-shaped alt-country and has a back catalogue that’s nothing short of “im-press-ive”. He knows a melody when he plays it.
Now, he’s searching for a way to re-imagine an important genre in the history of song construction and, as ever he’s throwing a spanner in the works, making up words “un-em-barkable” and coming off like Mose Allison on downers, touching on Brubeck’s hand patterns, holding court as a Django-like strummer–Naim Amor–drifts by on an abandoned caboose almost just out of earshot.
In places on ‘Future Standards’, Gelb duets with the equally laconic Lonna Kelley, it’s Parton and Porter (Wagoner) at the last chance saloon, all done up in stuffed shirts, uneasy but perfectly alluring. Gelb’s piano sinks to a pedal-depressed ambience as his cavalier vocal boasts of new love and faded times, all in the best tradition of the American Songbook that he’s pretty damn cleverly adding a new volume to.
T'was something less than coincidental that in the same burg Chet Baker ended it, these sessions began. There in Amsterdam with JB Meijers at the helm, co-producing the first tracks written for what was about to become a standard practice, assembling a brilliant rhythm section as well as offering his own signature guitar, JB aptly provided Howe the gumption to spring board into such uncharted waters with actual charts.
In the end, and only fitting, New York City, concluded these sessions via a visit with Tucsonian drummer, and Village Vanguard bartender, Arthur Vint.. just spittin' distance from the original ripple effect of a cherished Thelonious Sphere Monk.
"This is an attempt at writing a batch of tunes that could last through the ages with the relative structure of what has become known as "standards". The likes of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael done up by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday," suggests Howe. "Julie London had a lot to do with it."
These moments of melody framed in rhythm and rhyme along the pathway reproducing the species, if only to remind us, to validate, to as sure; We never choose to fall in love...It's always love that chooses us