In autumn of 2018, after more than a decade of silence, critically revered singer-songwriter Erin Moran (a.k.a. A Girl Called Eddy) resurfaced with a brand new collaborative project featuring French musician Medhi Zannad (Fugu), under the title The Last Detail. This elegant collection of shimmering indie-pop gems (“Talk to Me”, “Fun Fair”) signaled the return of one of this century’s most beguiling purveyors of melancholic pop. It also offered fans a sliver of hope that Moran might finally deliver that long-gestating sophomore effort. This month they got what they had been pining for and then some with Been Around, a classic-in-the-making record that most musicians could only dream of delivering in a lifetime.
Everything that made her eponymous 2004 debut so instantly charming is on dazzling display once again. That soulful, chocolatey voice is still tinged with sadness, and those perfectly crafted choruses and clever middle eights still beguile. Moran’s gift for storytelling is on full parade here, with devastatingly honest lyrics that paint scenes so vivid you can feel the heartache rise from the page. Sixteen years later, and the lush orchestration has been scaled back in favor of flashy bursts of brass, introspective piano passages, jangly guitar riffs, and tightly woven vocal harmonies. Throughout these 12lve stunning tracks, Moran and Grammy-winning producer Daniel Tashian of the Silver Seas dabble in a variety of disparate moods and textures, tipping their hats to legendary artists like Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, and Laura Nyro, without ever seeming derivative.
Lead single “Been Around” kicks it all off with the spoken phrase, “Girl, where you been?” and while that might seem an appropriate question considering Moran’s extended absence, as soon as she pours out a line like, “Carrying around the weight of a lifetime of dreaming”, it’s as if time stood still. Like Jackie DeShannon meets Karen Carpenter with a 21st-century twist, this wise and wistful opener features a soaring horn section, wailing background vocals, and a chromatic harp solo courtesy of virtuosic Nashville sideman Jim Hoke, of Emmylou Harris and Paul McCartney fame. While this man alone is a legend, the album is chock full of them. Moran has courted a slew of stellar guest musicians, like the Watson Twins, Bill DeMain, Viktor Krauss, and jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Michael Leonhart, to bring her poignant tales to life.
The captivating track “Jody”, an ode to one of Moran’s oldest and dearest departed friends, is a masterclass in nuance, at once brimming with life and aching with loss. She sings, “We talked about movies and Cuddles Sakall / Hours on the phone about nothing at all / He liked to call me kid, I liked it when he did,” and this joyous celebration of friendship gives way to a quiet, doleful synth postlude. That vulnerable poignancy lingers on long after the final note of the song has sounded.
The highlights are numerous. “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” feels like a long lost hit by the Pretenders, the bouncing ELO meets Neil Hannon Britpop of “Two Hearts” charms with its playful question mark of an abrupt ending, and jazzy, piano-laden closer “Pale Blue Moon” is proof that less is indeed more. Enough cannot be said about the album’s chamber pop stunner, “Charity Shop Window”. Written with Oscar-winning songwriter Paul Williams (“The Rainbow Connection”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”), this nostalgia-charged, Bacharach-esque showpiece is truly one of the most exquisite pop songs written in the past 50 years. If there is any criticism of the record at all, it’s that the lovely but languid, self-berating second track “Big Mouth” threatens to stifle the momentum of the first half of the album, when it might have been more impactful had it been placed elsewhere.
Towards the end of the record on “Finest Actor”, Moran sings, “He smelled of tobacco, guilt, and red wine / And sooner or later the guilt it was mine / He could’ve been Burton, Harris, or Dean / They could’ve been moments, but they were just scenes.” In this gorgeous, indigo-hued snapshot of love and loss, it becomes instantly clear why A Girl Called Eddy has garnered a cult following over time. She remains well-admired among discerning music lovers who like their pop to have both lyrical and emotional depth.
Almost two decades after she appeared on the scene with the 2001 EP Tears All Over Town, songs like “Heartache”, “People Who Dream About the Future”, and “Golden” continue to yield enormous rewards upon each successive spin. The songs of Been Around are no different. The fact that she reappeared is a miracle of sorts for those who believed her acclaimed debut would remain her sole musical output. Defying all the odds, she did come back, though. As the hype surrounding her return fades, and it will in this modern, “something shiny syndrome” world, let us hold tight to the exciting possibility that Been Around is anything but Moran’s final statement.