Graded on a Curve:
Mark Eitzel,
Hey Mr Ferryman

Mark Eitzel may be the bleakest man in show biz. He makes Morrissey look like the life of the party. But like Morrissey he’s a professional mope on the surface but a jester at heart, and while I believe Eitzel’s lingering depression is real, he has a wonderful way of leavening the dark stuff with a saving sense of black humor. Sometimes, at least.

Eitzel has a voice that communicates heartbreak and may well be the best poet in rock’n’roll—it’s either Eitzel or John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats—one with an unerring knack for the stunning image or metaphor. Just listen to “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” by his former band American Music Club if you don’t believe me. Or check out the utter downer on 2017’s Hey Mr Ferryman that is “An Angel’s Wing Brushed the Penny Slots.” It’s a suicide ode for the ages, about a guy who’s wife kills herself and now spends his time in a cheap casino, and includes the amazing lines, “Guess if you die on their floor/Then all the drinks are free.”

If I’ve always preferred American Music Club to Eitzel solo it’s because the former tossed in some up-tempo tunes. Eitzel alone prefers the ballad. But on Hey Mr Ferryman Eitzel mixes things up, and he’s at the top of his form, and this LP is nothing short of brilliant. Mr Ferryman is not composed solely of slow burners. To name just one tune, opening track and ode to alcoholism “The Last Ten Years” trots along at a brisk pace, and includes the great lines, “I’ve spent the last ten years/Trying to waste half an hour.” To say nothing of, “I’ve never been to Hell/But they’ve got my number.” Move over, Arthur Rimbaud.

Hey Mr Ferryman also includes a couple of stunningly beautiful anthems in “An Answer” and “Let Me Go.” The former perfectly captures that moment late at night when the drink has taken over and it’s time for confessions. “Don’t know how I got so broken,” sings Eitzel as the song soars, and he wants to know whether there’s an answer or just the one overwhelming question we all try our best to live with. In his love’s “merciful kitchen” and under the “soft Christmas lights” Eitzel wants to dance, because “dancing is the only thing” he does right. Pure magic. As for “Let Me Go” it includes some cranked-up guitar, and is Eitzel at his poetic best. “Like a butterfly to chloroform,” he sings, “I’m praying to be free.” And the chorus is lovely beyond words.

Almost rocker (the guitar is great) “The Road” may be the bleakest and most beautiful song about touring ever written: “We’re on a drive that’s never over/To play for a barman and his hateful brother,” the song opens, and it reminds me of the time my band drove the whole way to North Carolina to play before a throng consisting of exactly two people: the bartender and an old crackhead. “And we know there’s no end,” sings Eitzel, “There’s no end to the road.” Because in the end the road isn’t an interminable drive from here to wherever, it’s life.

“In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham” is Eitzel at his best, a self-lacerating ode if ever there was one. Eitzel sings, “Instead of a cane/I’ve got this broken song/And it’s with death and the dark I stand.” Look at him and he’ll look away; there’s no looking in the eyes of the despairing entertainer who sings, “The sound track of everything I see/Is played by those hacks from the Titanic.” So look away everybody. Look away. “La Llorona” is a rocker about a woman who loves the wrong men too much and includes the great lines, “She was the lighting strike/That turns the thunder brave/And if you shine too bright/You vanish in the glare.”

“Nothing and Everything” lags a bit for my tastes, ditto “Just Because.” But there’s no denying they’re both smoldering and beautiful. And I should have mentioned “Mr. Humphries” when I was talking about anthems, although it’s subject matter is hardly the stuff anthems are usually composed of. Or perhaps not: Its core message is that the heart just keeps on hoping, against all the odds and in full knowledge that hope is just the lubricant that keeps the meat grinder running. Still, the song soars, and soars even higher. “Sleep from my Eyes” is as stripped down as they come and on it Eitzel croons, and his voice was just made for crooning. And this one is the very definition of “hushed,” a song sung at four a.m. with your partner asleep in the bed beside you.

In a just world everyone would be familiar with the music of Mark Eitzel, because it’s pain transformed by means of musical alchemy into beauty, albeit a very sad beauty. Mister Mark Eitzel has gazed upon life and has found it unbearably sad, yet he hangs on if only to write and perform songs that give testament to the heart’s hopelessness and suffering. Eitzel the jester is largely absent on this one. You’ll find yourself, as Iggy Pop once said, “Looking for the joke through a microscope.” But that’s okay. The truth of the matter is that sometimes a guy simply can’t find a single thing worth laughing about.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text