Eric Andersen,
Blue Rain
(Appleseed, 2007)

In the wake of his two previous Appleseed releases, which paid tribute to his fellow neofolk songwriters from the mid-'60s Village scene, veteran Eric Andersen returns (at least for eight of the 11 cuts here) to his own material on the live recording Blue Rain. The Great American Song Series set material originally recorded in straightforward acoustic fashion -- by Dylan, Ochs, Paxton and other folk giants -- into textured electric arrangements, but the new disc, recorded in Oslo in June 2006 with members of Norway's Spoonful of Blues, captures a moodier, more oblique, more skeletal ambience.

In fact, if you recall the late Fred Neil's eponymous 1967 Capitol album, you'll recognize the approach, at least in a broad sense: a kind of electric-folk-blues noir. Not much here appears to be happening under bright sunlight, and a good mood is hard to find. Fittingly, the album opens with Neil's faintly sinister "The Other Side of This Life" (covered earlier in a more produced version on Andersen's 2004 release The Street Was Always There, the first of the two Great American CDs). The rest of the cuts are Andersen's, some of them ("The Blues Keep Fallin' Like the Rain" and "Don't It Make You Want to Sing the Blues," for two examples) so Neil-inflected they could easily have been on Neil recordings.

Blue Rain's original songs are drawn mostly from Andersen's back catalogue, but with a 1972 cut-off date ("Sheila" first appeared that year on his celebrated Blue River Columbia album, which nearly gave him a shot at pop stardom); thus, the 1960s compositions that first brought him attention -- "Close the Door Lightly," "Violets of Dawn," "Thirsty Boots" -- are left to rest in peace. Andersen has been at this a long time, never attaining the fame and recognition he deserves while creating an impressive body of work that this fine recording eloquently documents. Live recordings are usually ignorable and even unlistenable after the initial spin, but this is a respectful audience satisfied to listen quietly, and Andersen isn't one for idle chit-chat. Nothing takes away from the songs, performed intensely and precisely, with backing musicians admirably attuned to the singer's needs and nuances.

At least in his performing style, Andersen gives the impression of being tightly wound, but a relaxed romp through bluesman Jimmy Reed's standard "Shame, Shame, Shame" cuts through the tension. It's followed by his own "Blue River," a hymnlike evocation of a mythic America and one of Andersen's most memorable compositions. Overall, Blue Rain offers testimony to a fierce, continuing engagement with his art. Now in his own mid-60s, Andersen hasn't taken any easy highway. You don't get to be this good if you travel that way.

review by
Jerome Clark

28 July 2007

what's new