Mark Eitzel shouldn’t need any introduction and his latest solo album, the first since 2012’s Don’t Be a Stranger, starts off on familiar ground for anyone who is a fan of American Music Club. One of the great, great lyricists of generation with a voice that has always suited both early morning listening and late night wallowing, Eitzel really is on top form throughout Hey Mr. Ferryman.
“You make me want to stick around and find if there’s an answer” he sings on the second track ‘An Answer’ to a melodic backing ,clearly influenced by the album’s producer Bernard Butler. They got put in touch because Eitzel’s manager goes to same daycare centre as Butler, and that sort of domestic maturity runs throughout this album. ‘The Road’ is peak Eitzel when he sings “we’ll lose the war just to win the fight.”
This is an album which wears its politics lightly but it’s definitely there in ‘Nothing and Everything’in the lines “The chain weighs a tonne/Freedom’s a gun” one of the highlights in a collection of songs where there’s a distinct battle for that title. Against a sparse backing of acoustic guitar and harmony, Eitzel’s voice is pushed to the fore where you can only – and have to – listen to his voice and his message.
There are even echoes of John Martyn in closing track ‘Sleep From My Eyes’, in ‘Mr. Humphries’ a song written about the character from seminal BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? and one of the greatest titled tracks in the whole of recorded musical history, ‘In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham’ – “why are the righteous always eager for war” and the plaintive refrain in “I look away”, a song that pulsates, builds and overcomes. A clear centrepiece for Hey Mr Ferryman and easily strong enough to hold that title.
I keep on returning to the lyrics and his voice because they are such strong components made even stronger by them coming together. Eitzel turns 58 the week after this album is released and he has nothing left to prove to anyone. This is just a dream start to the music year, and will be a clear contender when people are making their lists come Christmas time.
Words: Mark Buckley