Eric Bachmann is a songwriter and musician of three distinct voices, having guided Archers Of Loaf and Crooked Fingers, and now, on his second solo album, turning over a new page once again.
A decade after his first solo album, the spare, acoustic To The Races, and five years since the final Crooked Fingers album, Bachmann turns to the piano for a mellow but lyrically forceful batch of nine songs.
Bachmann’s latest solo album isn’t nearly as much a turn from Crooked Fingers as that project was from Archers Of Loaf, but neither is this latest shift merely a difference in arrangements. The piano, rather than guitar, is the most prominent instrument here, but in terms of songwriting, Bachmann is operating in another territory. The songs are raw, direct, and vulnerable, written with a wisdom that comes from accumulated experience—in his case, 25 years as a musician out on the road.
With its ringing piano chords and the gorgeous sweep of pedal steel guitar (courtesy of Jon Rauhouse), album opener “Belong To You” finds Bachmann singing in a more somber and weary tone than his raspy baritone typically carries.
The second track, “Mercy,” is one of the album’s clear highlights, a message to recognize what’s shared in all humanity. Alongside the steady stomp of drums and the doo-wop backing vocals, Bachmann sings of the pain, loss, and suffering that run through the world, and ends with a message to “Fill your heart with love and cherish what you can while you are here.”
“Masters Of The Deal” is the album’s most outward-looking song, telling the story of a mentally disabled man tried and ultimately executed in Texas in 2012. “The South is a ghost,” Bachmann sings, drawing a connection between that single case and the region’s troubled history.
The album’s middle section jumps from “Dreaming,” a tender ballad focused on memory, with Bachmann singing about how the world looks like an open door to a child, to a jolt of sly levity in “Separation Fight,” an incongruously upbeat song in which Bachmann sings of agoraphobia and anxiety with a startled “Oh no!”
The highlight of the album’s back stretch is “Carolina,” the closest Bachmann gets to the sound of Crooked Fingers. Written by Liz Durrett, who has recorded and performed in the band, the tune is bursting with vocal harmony alongside a prominent electric guitar riff and driving beat.
Eric Bachmann is the most lyric-centered record of Bachmann’s career; it’s not as immediate as Archers Of Loaf or Crooked Fingers, but it isn’t built to be. The lasting impression is a deeply personal one, like the reflective calm after a long conversation full of hard-won lessons.