Don’t Be a Stranger, Décor Records ****
After a recent heart attack and the passing of a former bandmate, it’s safe to say that Mark Eitzel probably isn’t making any stylistic about-turns on his latest solo record.
While the erstwhile American Music Club frontman’s reputation for melancholia has dogged his 30-year career, Eitzel is also widely recognised as a songwriter with the skill to unearth real beauty amid sadness. He continues to tap that well on Don’t Be a Stranger, but underneath his trademark barbed lyrics and dour humour, there’s an audible undercurrent of sanguinity.
Why Are You With Me? and Break the Champagne encapsulate Eitzel’s stubborn, self-deprecating cynicism, yet on other songs he staunchly refuses to wallow in sentimentality. The stark, lyrically resolute piano number We All Have to Find Our Way Out sees him exasperatedly address a self-pitying acquaintance (“I don’t love you enough for your despair”), while the soft, loungey murmur of All My Love is one of a brace of heart-swelling love songs.
Perhaps the upbeat nuances that colour several songs here are down to a newfound appreciation for life, given his recent health scare. Or perhaps it’s the fact that this album came close to not being made (or at least recorded properly) until a lottery-winning friend of his manager financed studio time and a producer.
It was a wise investment. The lush production values of these 11 songs allow Eitzel’s beautiful voice to drift and settle without distraction on the understated, intimate instrumentation, while the inclusion of strings on The Bill is Due and Nowhere to Run underscore the parallels with Robert Kirby’s timeless arrangements for Nick Drake.
It all becomes a bit overbearingly poignant at times, but it’s a mostly brilliant collection, nevertheless. markeitzel.com
Download: We All Have to Find Our Way Out, Oh Mercy