Eric Gerber,
Boston by Friday
(Scruffy Dog Records, 2000)

Boston by Friday is a strong and enjoyable album by singer-songwriter Eric Gerber. The only cover is Greg Brown's "The Poet Game," which blends beautifully with Gerber's original songs. The album is well-paced and very pleasant to listen to, while the excellent lyrics repay a closer attention. The arrangements are nicely done in the modern singer-songwriter style (not rock), their clean simplicity setting off the melodies and lyrics.

Gerber addresses several themes popular with singer-songwriters -- travel, love and commentaries on life -- bringing his own perspective and solid lyrical sense to them. "Boston by Friday" and "A Thousand Symphonies" are the road songs, both introspective and pensive, but very different from each other. I really liked his use of Massachusetts geography in each of these; I live there myself which adds personal appeal, but I also find that a distinct locality tends to ground road songs and keep them from being vague and generic. The character of the New England states is different from that of the Southwest, for example, and Gerber incorporates specifically New England places and imagery to bring the songs to life. "Boston by Midnight" includes some lovely vocals by Lori McKenna, although I found the change in point of view somewhat distracting.

"You've Been on My Mind" and "Independence Day" are love songs. The first, beautiful in both melody and lyrics, is a bittersweet song written to an old love who is marrying someone else. "Independence Day" describes a first meeting and attraction in precise and evocative detail (somewhat reminiscent of some of Christine Lavin's songs although not explicitly funny), telling us at the end that they wed on Independence Day. A sweet and touching song.

"When Push Comes to Shove" is as close as this album comes to a rocker; it's light-hearted and energetic, in an early rock style but with acoustic instruments. Very danceable! "No Money Blues" is an accurate title for a solid blues tune, embellished by Dana Cooper's great harmonica.

"The Sundance Kid" is an interesting blend of the cowboy song with a singer-songwriter sensibility. "The Box Fan," recorded live, is an entertaining account of a brief fling. Gerber's cover of "The Poet Game" is wonderful; his singing and guitar work set off Brown's stunning lyrics better than his own version, in some ways; by emphasizing the "poet game" parts of the lyrics less than Brown did, Gerber draws more attention to the rest of the song and less obvious connections between the verses. I liked "The Light of Dawn" the least of the songs; it's pretty and inspirational, but the religious aspects were not to my taste. I expect those whose spiritual paths are closer to that of the song will like it better than I did.

The song sequence was chosen well, with a good rhythm between the songs and styles. I wish the liner had included lyrics; while I know that budgetary constraints are the usual reason why many singer-songwriters' albums don't, I find that a lyric sheet usually helps me to appreciate that part of the songs. Fortunately, Gerber's voice and this recording are clear, so one can hear the lyrics distinctly! Apart from that lack, the album's design is quiet and effective. He included a full page of thanks in the liner, and I was pleased to see Emerson College's radio station WERS listed; it's one of my favorites, and the place where I first heard and liked Gerber.

Boston by Midnight should appeal to listeners who like modern singer-songwriters, particularly those with skill in both lyrics and melody, and strong skills in instruments and arrangements.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]