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(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/4/2007)
The music world is rife with "one-album wonders" -- performers and bands who release one brilliant recording and then are not heard from again, either because the band broke up or because they were dropped by their record label. This sort of thing happens a lot more these days, since most of the major labels will drop an artist from their roster if they don't sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their first album almost immediately, and that's a shame. But at the same time, the ease with which independent recordings can be made and sold by means of the Internet, means that losing one's label contract does not mean the end of making records.
But even with that possibility, almost every serious music fan has his or her own favorite one or two album wonders, who have largely disappeared from the recording scene.
In 2003, I reviewed for this series a recording by a superb, musically sophisticated acoustic rock band from Idaho called Marcus Eaton and the Lobby. I was beginning to think this was going to be one of those flashes in the pan. Fortunately, now four years later, Marcus Eaton is back with a new CD, minus the Lobby, but with musical quality even higher. Eaton's solo recording is called Story of Now.
Marcus Eaton grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. The son of a guitarist and songwriter, he naturally gravitated toward music, taking up guitar at age nine. He formed a band called E.S.P. with a drummer named Nate Keezer in high school in 1996. Eaton continued playing in bands while attending Idaho State University in Boise. The band which came to be known as the Lobby also featured a prominent sax, and was initially a kind of jam band, who did what they did out of necessity: without a great number of compositions to play, they jammed on each one for a long time. They released a couple of independent CDs before issuing The Day the World Awoke, which spotlighted the band's creative, musically complex compositions, almost all by Eaton, along with Eaton's pleasing tenor voice and impressive acoustic guitar work, which could sometimes hint at Latin American and flamenco styles.
Now, four years later, the Lobby has apparently gone their separate ways, and the 26-year-old Eaton spent some 40 days in the studio in Boise to bring to realization his new songs. Derico Watson, who plays in Flecktone Victor Wooten's band was brought in to play drums on some tracks, while Tony Sereduk plays on three other pieces. Garrett Sayers is heard on bass, and Kyle Aho is featured on piano. While the sonic emphasis of Eaton's music remains acoustic, he does play some electric guitar and there are some tracks that include the electronic rhythms of contemporary pop music, but the result is anything but conventional. I suppose that if you wanted one of those glib rock-critic capsule catch-phrases, one could call this "acoustic art rock singer-songwriter music."
Eaton's lyrics are intelligent and generally optimistic, though they do largely center around the perennial subject of love and its permeations. Musically, Eaton's writing is intricate and sophisticated, yet very appealing, despite the majority of the tracks being in unconventional meters, with five, seven and even 13-beat rhythms. Eaton is one of a relative few who, like Sting, who can create music that is this complex and yet make it sound easy and natural. Before recording the album, Eaton also spent some time with a vocal coach, and his already appealing vocals are stronger than before, an airy tenor who can impart a good deal of energy when he wants to.
While Eaton's vocals and guitar dominated the sound of the Lobby band, this CD lacks the sax and flute that were prominent in that group. It's mainly Eaton himself this time on the various guitars that are the basis of the sound. Some tracks run toward the more acoustic and with lighter or absent drums, while others can rock out.
Leading off is one of the rockers, Candle to the Sun. It's one of Eaton's generally optimistic love songs. The piece is typical of his almost art-rock composing style with complex shifts of meter and effective use of dynamics with the contrast between acoustic and electric sections. <<>>
On the Lobby album Eaton showed some reggae influence, and on the title track of this CD Story of Now, a hint of reggae figures into the elaborate arrangement. It's another appealing and quite musically interesting piece. <<>>
Four years ago on the Lobby album, one of the more interesting influences that turned up was Latin American rhythms, and even Spanish-style guitar. Story of Now also draws on that source on the track Victims of What Is Available, which also features some oblique social commentary. The piece is one of the highlights of a uniformly outstanding album <<>>
Eaton's tendency toward rhythmic complexity is evident on several tracks. In fact there is very little in a conventional rock or folk meter on Story of Now. A song called Drug, which compares love to chemical addiction, rocks along in seven without sounding too abstruse. <<>>
As mentioned, Sting is also known for creating songs in unconventional rhythms. Eaton's song Disposable shows some definite influence from Sting's old band The Police. <<>>
Somewhat more laid-back in sound, with more of a singer-songwriter style is Road to Home. Lyrically, Eaton continues his optimistic direction. <<>>
Another of the album's most impressive tracks is Burn It Down, which features mainly just Eaton's acoustic guitars accompanying his words of lost love. He again draws on Latin influence, but in a rather un-Latin-like 13-beat meter on the verses. <<>>
Also quite appealing, though with a somewhat less rosy outlook, is Four Seasons Turn to Rain. Eaton features a little sitar on the track, as he does from time to time elsewhere on the CD. <<>>
On Story of Now, Marcus Eaton, a still quite young Idahoan, has created a really outstanding album that surpasses the excellent recording by his band The Lobby four years ago. He creates music that is outwardly appealing, but is full of classy, high-level musical ingredients that would likely endear this recording to art rock and even jazz fans, with his rhythmic and harmonic sophistication. And this CD could also come across as a singer-songwriter recording with its often acoustic sound and thoughtful lyrics. It has been a long time since the Eaton's last recording, and once he started, he spent a long time making this CD. But his labor definitely paid off, with every track on the CD having a lot to offer.
Sonically, we'll give the CD a grade "A." The mix is first-rate, skillfully blending the acoustic and the electric, Eaton's vocal is generally well-recorded, and the dynamic range of the recording, which was a problem on the last CD by the Lobby, is much improved, allowing the volume to be soft when the music calls for it.
Marcus Eaton has been looking for a record label to distribute his CD. For now, he is making it available in limited numbers on his website. It's definitely worth seeking out. A recording that maintains such a high musical level and that's so downright likable is rare indeed.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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