A dark and deeply immersive dive into the human condition from one of America’s finest songwriters.
Erstwhile member of one of Seattle’s finest exports, The Walkabouts, Chris Eckman has been resident in Ljubljana for many years now, running his own world music label, Glitterbeat, and releasing occasional albums. His last solo offering in 2014 was a sublime impressionistic exploration of Harney County in Oregon, loosely based on the writings of William Kettridge. ‘Where The Spirit Rests’, like many albums released this year, was born of the pandemic as Eckman, having not played music for some time, picked up his guitar and started to tinker with it. Some songs grew out of this but Eckman says of them, “They weren’t very good at first, then around spring things started to grow.” The seven tracks here are the fruit of those tentative first efforts eventually blossoming into fully-fledged songs.
The album moves at a glacial pace, the songs slowly unravelling with a sombre mood prevailing. Eckman describes then as “insular… kind of like those Samuel Beckett rolling monologues” and there is an introspective aspect to many of them. Meanwhile, Eckman’s voice has weathered well with its wearied tone reminiscent of Dylan, allowing a most intimate listening experience which draws you into his world.
Whether it’s Eckman alone with his guitar, or backed by bass and drums, along with remote contributions on pedal steel, piano, Wurlitzer, violin and cello, the songs are quite hypnotic. There’s a siren-like allure in the glistening pedal steel adorned ‘This Curving Track’ and on the trippy cosmic sounds of ‘Drinking In America’, which, despite its scabrous lyrics, is a song so dreamlike it could replace nitrous oxide as a dental anaesthetic. ‘Cabin Fever’ glowers like a thunderstorm on the horizon as Eckman hunkers down amidst ambient squalls of viola as he considers going off-grid, singing that he’s “tired of filing reports, going up country, find me some trees.” The alternative is to go on and end up like the wearied barfly in Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours.
The disc lends itself to those wee small hours as the songs drip out in a nocturnal fashion. The opening song is full of portent as Eckman sings, “These times are tough on love/Tough on sex and swagger,” while Northern Lights plumbs emotional depths with an opalescent beauty. The title song is a nine-minute epic which opens with Eckman’s voice residing somewhere between latter Chip Taylor and the sonorous Scott Walker. Catherine Graindorge’s viola, and keyboards from Chris Cacavas, adorn the funereal beat of the rhythm section allowing for an immersive ambient sensation as Eckman gradually transforms the song into a Van Morrison like tone poem lifted from Astral Weeks.
Eckman closes with an enigma. ‘CTFD’ seems more personal than the songs which precede it and Google suggests it’s an acronym for a wasting disease called congenital fibre type disproportion, related to muscular dystrophy. It’s the most hushed song here, squirreling into Leonard Cohen territory as Eckman sings of a couple reflecting on bad news but determined to carry on against all odds. There’s an intimacy here which is quite candid as he sings, “Whisper baby, in my ear; calm the fuck down” and the song is a perfect curtain closer for an album which is quite soul searching within its intimate ambient warmth.