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March 2023
Vol. 22, No. 6

CD Reviews

ERIC ANDERSEN: The Essential Eric Andersen

by Terry RolandMay 2018

What is essential in an artist’s work, whose legacy reaches back a half century? Unless the artist in question has an unusually consistent body of work, the question can be daunting. Fortunately, in seminal singer-songwriter Eric Andersen’s case there has been consistency as well as the kind of inspiration that follows the joy and toil that goes into authentic living. Like a blues singer, his songs have been lived in and lived through. This album includes not only key songs, but vital chapters, periods, and eras reaching beyond trends and easily categorized “best of” song packages. This new release, The Essential Eric Andersen, does capture what is essential in his near-six decades of work.

This double-CD package portrays a singer-songwriter who has remained true to his calling in pursuit of songs that run deeper and have endured longer than any album of “greatest hits” by lesser artists. The album reaches back to Andersen’s 1965 debut, Today is the Highway, when he was known as one of the Greenwich Village troubadours and a peer of Bob Dylan’s. It follows with the classic Blue River milestone of the singer-songwriter movement of the early ’70s through the band he helped found with Jonas Fjld and Rick Danko. Also included are unique to collaborations with Lou Reed, David Bromberg, and Bruce Langhorne. Along the way we hear original blues songs, tributes to the Beat poets, and his more recent, latter day haunting and stripped-down music of the last 10 years.

Throughout the collection the common thread are Andersen’s observant and insightful lyrics that yield impressionistic imagery, poetic empathy, and compassion too often absent in today’s self-absorbed songwriters.

Most familiar to fans of the Greenwich era are “Thirsty Boots,” recorded by Judy Collins and Bob Dylan, among many others; “Come to My Bedside, My Darlin’”; and “Violets of Dawn.” Beyond this there are plenty of riches to discover. Songs like “Come Runnin’ Like a Friend” and “Rains Fell Down in Amsterdam” are experiences in the universal and intimate nature of songwriting-in-performance as it turns from art to a direct experience of life. This is the palate where Andersen does his most transformational work. Like other great songwriters, he is a poet-alchemist whose vision is clear, and his songs are bound together with truth.

This collection allows the listener to stop and dwell on specific eras of Andersen’s work. The early Vanguard recordings offer a look at an artist who refined and defined himself apart from his Village friends in the mid-’60s. The Blue River era of the early ’70s includes three albums (Blue River, Stages, Be True to You), which stand as consistent masterful works that helped shape the singer-songwriter outside of the trends and hits of the times.

Fortunately, two of his more epic works appear on this collection: “Time Run Like a Freight Train” and “Ghosts Up on the Road.” These are songs that hold the redemptive power of thought, word, and melody sewn through art that heals, if we take the time to listen and experience.

The answer to the question of what is essential in Eric Andersen’s work is that there is nothing unessential here. As is the case with any classic work of literature, art or music, the songs on this collection represent pieces of time where we can discover, rediscover, and experience Eric Andersen’s songs with evolving and deepening meaning as time passes.

In the last five years he has released an EP in collaboration with the 20th century philosopher Albert Camus–Light & Shadow of Albert Camus–and most recently a new album with 18th century poet, Lord Byron Shelly, titled Mingle with the Universe. There is also a much-anticipated film by Paul Lamont, The Songpoet, due out soon.

Eric Andersen pays a visit to AMSD Concerts at Sweetwater Highschool in National City on May 4. See May calendar for details.

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