This week I was in high anticipation for a release from one of my favorite artists. Mark Eitzel’s Hey, Mr. Ferryman was released.
This is the best recording I’ve heard from Mark Eitzel since American Music Club’s, Everclear. Everclear affected me in a way that has never really left. Back in the day, Kristin Hersh taught me to spill out whatever I had onto a page and place it into a song, and Luka Bloom taught me rhythm and how to make a solo performance bigger than it is. The AMC taught me how to work the canvas that is a recording. I still listen to that album and hear surprising little details that I hadn’t heard before… and I’ve been listening to it for 25 years.
On the day Hey, Mr. Ferryman was released I listened to it twice through. The first time I played it through my iTunes on random, while driving to work… I know, I know, as a huge believer in the journeys that artists create when making an album, why would I just circumvent Mark’s carefully selected order? Well, I think partly it’s because hopefully, I know his music well enough to have an idea where it would go, but I also wanted him to surprise me a little.
The first song on my randomly generated playlist (Which I don’t actually believe, BTW! My good friend James and I share the theory that “the iPod knows…”) was Sleep From My Eyes. To me, it was classic Mark Eitzel, but although there are actual, genuine punchy songs on the record, this is the song that punched me the most (Which isn’t really what you need at 55mph on Highway 169). I decided during the first verse, THIS was the song that was going to be played at my funeral. The reason I think this song was so affecting to me, was that Mark’s usual, on point, but fragile delivery has grown into something altogether more creamy. There’s a confidence that I haven’t heard in awhile, and either that’s because of his trust with Bernard Butler at the helm, or just age. Maybe both.
Next up was The Road, which pulls in, what I can only presume is Butler playing a weird, fuzzy choppy guitar part, which adds a little subversion and a whole lot of blues. It’s glorious! This is one of many songs for musicians on the album.
It also has a false ending that is one of my favorite musical moments on the record.
Still, on a mellow level, Nothing & Everything was next. Mark always seems to find (in his songs, but I like to believe in his life, also) people that are hurt, forgotten and finished and this song seems to be about another. Pretty sparse with a beautiful washing reverb and warm tight backing vocals that just accentuates this new creaminess from Mark’s voice.
La Llorona has another broken human subject matter and the first lift into something with a snappy groove.
An Answer carries in it my first favorite lyric, “Under your soft Christmas light, who would ever reap what they sow. Dancing is the only thing I do right, as long as we keep it nice and slow”.
Angel's Wings Brushed The Penny Slots is just as painful/beautiful as any Mark Eitzel song and in some respects, I think touches on his own fragility. A fantastic story, propelled by a Casio-beat, that’s stayed with me over the last few days and given me my favorite lyric of the whole album, “An angel’s wings brushed the penny slots and tried to wake my weak heart up. Oh, but when I fell she read all my thoughts, but she did not run, she helped me up”
For the rest of my hour long commute I just got lost in new stories told in a way that I love, but with enough surprises to keep me shaking my head in equal measures of disbelief and certain approval.
That soaked in over my work day and by the time I was driving home again it had made its way to the top of my mental jukebox. I listened to it as intended then; each track in order.
I’ve been exceptionally blessed to have opened for Mark on two occasions - Once at Belfast’s Empire Music Hall, which was a fantastic show, attended by a fanatical AMC/Eitzel audience. I was able to mumble some nonsense to him in the dressing room about his music, without, as per usual, telling him exactly what his music has meant to me (“Again, Leslie Rich?”, you yell at me… and I nod in agreement, because, despite my mouthiness with friends, I just don’t have the guts to spill to my heroes). He politely talked about Minnesota beer after I told him that’s where I would visit each year.
The second time was at Belfast’s Limelight Club, which wasn’t as well attended but was still a great show. The band and I were now on nodding terms and I like to think that Mark completely understood my entire story and my respect for his music in that one nod!
My guess is that he thinks of me often (Possibly helped by quarterly tweet to come to Minneapolis to play!) and although he’s circumnavigating the Twin Cities this time around, he for sure has it lined up for next!
(NB - Just had a chat with Jim Walsh this week and he related a story about an American Music Club show at the 400 Bar where Mark, so disgusted at the audience’s lack of interest, held his guitar over his head and threw it to the ground before walking off mid-set. If that’s true, I’ll have to let him know that the 400 Bar is no more (although possibly getting revived) and that I’ll make sure the audience is more behaved next time!)