Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz “Answers Belie”

Baggage Room Records, 2023

Prolific yet profoundly disaffected Californians deliver downbeat verdict on the world.

Answers Belie’ is a new record by Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz. It is fashioned and delivered with a real sense of purpose, there is a great deal of thought and intent behind it. It is certainly not put together on a whim. This is an admirable state of affairs as it is not always the case with the records that pass through the halls of AUK. Anders and O’Bitz may well be super prolific in their creation of new music (14 releases and counting since 2016, as well as solo material) but they remain serious about what they do and committed to getting their message across in the best way possible.

As a result, what we get on ‘Answers Belie’ is an earnest interpretation of the ‘state of the nation’ as it appears to them. Artists representing and critiquing the world as they experience it is the bread and butter of Americana. That we seem to share a worldview with a large number of them in turn becomes fundamental to what we search for and get from their art. This record unquestionably exists to communicate Anders and O’Bitz’ worldview to their audience. Everything contained within its purview is offered up in service of this message. The lyrics, the musical accompaniment, the production, even the stuff that surrounds it like the packaging and the publicity material is corralled into line. This commitment to the (undoubtedly good) cause is admirable but is also, ultimately, the downfall of the record.

They begin with ‘A Slow Movin’ Nightmare’, a song they call “A dirge for the passing of American democracy”. It is indeed a slow-moving dirge, intense and moody in both its musical delivery and lyrical expression. The first words we hear are “Breakdown, Has come, Too long believin’ wildly dumb… Way down, You’ll see, From these cancers we cannot be freed”. The territory we are about to enter is pretty clear and remains in place, parched and unrelenting, for the next 31 minutes. Second up is ‘Force of Old’, which further stresses the worries of Americans’ about their political future; Heard about a war to come/Heard it might be unlike wars of old/Heard it won’t be civil/Heard it might be hot or cold.

Even the songs dealing with smaller, more personal concerns reside in the darker corners of their (and our) experience with ‘The Hardest Lessons’ concerning a tendency to dwell on and in dysfunctional relationships and ‘Eyes, A Child, Bedside’ dealing with the miserable health issues faced by Anders’ bike riding Highway Patrolman grandad, because as he explains “healthcare sucks in the U.S”. At the approach of the last song ‘I hope Time Will be Kind’ we finally glimpse some daylight in the darkness as Anders hymns his children with remembrances of their earliest times. Not for long though, even this generous sentiment quickly dissipates as he allows his anxieties that the world is going to hell in a handcart to overtake the song and his expression of feelings for his offspring.

‘Answers Belie’ is impeccably produced and mixed by Mike Butler, who also contributes Bass, lap steel and mandolin to O’Bitz’ guitars and keyboards and Anders’ vocals. With Ben Moore, John O’Reilly and Jenn Grinels making up the rest of the personnel, Anders and O’Bitz’ songs are performed with an understated majesty that is entirely befitting their message. The tempos remain a notch above glacial throughout and the arrangements remain firmly (if a little too predictably) in a straight-up singer songwriter vein. There is little to leaven the mood of resigned disaffection that has settled over proceedings early on. Neither do we get any sense of the righteous anger that must surely be part of their response to the circumstances that are observing.

All of this serves to leave us outside the music, looking in and thinking how difficult their world is, rather than empathising and sharing the experience. The record keeps us at arm’s length, which can’t be the effect they were looking to deliver with their message. Even though ‘Eyes, a child, bedside’ has a similar mood to the rest of the record it does hint at what could done if they would loosen up a bit and open up their world to the listener, sensing the beauty as well as the difficulty. There is just not enough of this light and shade to have us coming back for more.


About Guy Lincoln 73 Articles
Americana, New Country, Alt-country, No Depression, Twangcore, Cow-punk, Neo-traditionalists, Countrypolitan... whatever.
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