Various Artists “Tribute to a Songpoet – Songs of Eric Andersen”

EA Records, 2023

Greenwich Village legend gets deserved superstar tribute.

Eric Andersen is a song writing legend who hit the floor running with his early albums as part of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s.  He could folk with the best of them, but when he launched off with his own voice – well, ‘Thirsty Boots‘, ‘Violets of Dawn‘ more than pointed the way for those in his audience who would go on themselves to be major artists.  And later recordings would unveil classics like ‘Time Run Like A Freight Train‘, ‘Salt on your Skin‘ and ‘Before Everything Changed‘.  An artist perhaps most associated with the poetry and expression of love – and passionate love at that – Eric Andersen certainly doesn’t shy away from the topical or the political, being as bluntly harsh as a Dylan when he choses to be.  It’s no wonder, then, that such a catalogue of great and notable names have taken part in this expansive – it covers three CDs – release which, as the title suggest, pays a tribute to a songwriter who, frankly, deserves such a tribute.  Eric Andersen is not forgotten – he’s still recording and playing live after all – but one listen to this collection and one can only wonder why he isn’t even better known.

This collection features over forty of Andersen’s songs recorded by a huge range of musicians within the folk, country, blues and rock spheres, many of them respected singer-songwriters in their own right making their acknowledgement of Eric Andersen’s achievements particularly noteworthy.  The collection starts with one such, who once said “Eric Andersen is a great ballad singer and writer.”  And probably Bob Dylan’s recommendation should be enough for most people to sit up and pay attention.  His interpretation of ‘Thirsty Boots‘ is a previously unreleased version taken from the ‘Self Portrait’ sessions with Dylan’s guitar, vocals, and harmonica accompanied by Al Kooper on piano, David Bromberg on guitar, with bass added in 2021 by Tony Garnier, the whole newly mixed by Steve Addabbo.  It’s a fluid rendering of the song, with Dylan easing out the tensions between the musician’s touring life and a desire to put down roots even if only temporarily.

Somewhat linking in to that Andersen-Dylan connection is Scarlet Rivera’s contribution of ‘Before Everything Changed.‘  It’s perhaps the most Dylanesque song that Eric Andersen has ever written, and this version adds a layer of violin and cracking female vocals that serve to make it a striking recording  – a standout on the album.   Willie Nile’s rendering of ‘Rain Falls Down In Amsterdam‘ brings out all the horrors that happen when one section of society is demonised, and points the finger at those who claimed that they knew nothing of what was going on “here comes 1932 here comes deja vu / those cattle cars and yellow stars / was there someone that you knew ? / it’s right there in the open / something’s smelling bad.”  There’s no mistaking what Andersen was trying to communicate on what is a song that once heard is never forgotten.

The gentler side of Eric Andersen is generously served, with a beautiful reading of the passion as poetry of ‘Violets of Dawn’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter, whilst Simon Keats conveys all the more insistent passion of ‘Come To My Bedside, My Darling.‘  The nostalgia of ‘Time Run Like A Freight Train‘ with all its layers of regret for lost days is all there in the weary voiced Wesley Stace.  Most of the recordings it has to be said are close to the feel of the originals, in sprit, a notable exception is Signè Andersen who gives ‘Driftin’ Away‘ an eighties soul-pop makeover.

Having all these different versions of Eric Andersen’s songs in one place is a real reminder of the variety of his material, his love is often romantically poetic – and also plentiful and seemingly fleeting, but when he turns his eye to painting portraits of injustice or to questions of spiritual philosophy he is unafraid to be brutal and honest.  There are a number of songs one could describes as his “cityscapes”, and these tend to the gritty and the seedy with most of the population down on their luck and unlikely to come by any improvement.  Anyone who has any interest in Eric Andersen will want to hear this, anyone who comes to the collection just curious as to why so many of their favourite singers are recording Andersen’s material will want to search out the original material afterwards.

8/10
8/10

About Jonathan Aird 2279 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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