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Cliff Eberhardt

The High Above and the Down Below

(Red House; US: 10 Apr 2007; UK: 14 May 2007)

The CD opens with guitar, opens with hints of acoustic blues, and the voice is gravelly, maybe suggesting rock. The preference is, however, more for a kind of… hollered ballad. But this is not country music. I suppose it’s more late Lennonist (John) than anything else, a sort of urban song with emphasis on performance rather than production, and not incurring any big electric bills. This is not the sort of singing which demands a microphone.


Among the publicity material there is a suggestion that the producers of this set worked hard to avoid overdubbing. Is there some sort of commonplace compulsion to overdub? I’d have thought that refraining might be easy. However, easy isn’t the word to be applied to many aspects of the present set. 


A very dramatic and even exposed vocal performer, Mr. Eberhardt, with a sleeve on which he is not shy of wearing a heart. I have no idea why he was photographed for the attractive cardboard wrapround with in one case a couple of jazz photos behind—and why the clear plastic CD-housing panel has a photo of a wall with a line of jazz photos across it. The three accompanists, respectively on Hammond B3/piano/Rhodes piano, bass, and drums, are reported to be leading jazz performers resident in St. Paul, Minnesota, hometown of Red House Records, but there’s pretty much no jazz to be heard on this CD. I mention the fact in case anybody wonders.


I could imagine “The Next Big Thing” being sung by an urban bluesman, but Cliff Eberhardt’s songs are for the most part heartstring-directed belters, not bluesy or rhythmic in any R&B way, and not lacking involvement from the hoarse-sounding Eberhardt. The publicity material speaks highly of his abilities as a guitarist, again not a jazz guitarist, and frankly the very high praise of his instrumental abilities seems entirely warranted. When he plays an instrumental chorus, he phrases to perfection, and displays a sensitivity of musical expression in marked contrast to a vocal delivery devoted to expounding emotion, at times not far from raw.


“The Right Words” and “Dug Your Own Grave” have exemplary piano accompaniment from Rich Dworsky, and the vocal delivery is more intimate and less forced in contrast to quite a number of the tracks featuring the singer’s acoustic guitar. He might try performing the song “All of Me”, since the title seems in character with him.


With congas and some guitar overdubbing, his “Let the Whole Thing Burn” is a little reminiscent of early Lennon-McCartney (when they had only just become famous and rich), and the other devices applied to the last couple of tracks seem to go with a less assertive delivery, the nice bass-guitar work opening “New Is What’s Come Over You” and working with the Rhodes chime behind the acoustic guitar accompaniment. The melody’s attractive and the instrumental setting well-realised.  “Goodbye Again” closes the set with an appreciation of the tenderness that gets more pained expression elsewhere.


The penultimate title is “I’m All Right”, and I very much hope the man is.

Rating:

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