Etheredge’s debut, Change Coming—out on Vipaka Records—evokes the refined pop of artists such as Steely Dan, Michael MacDonald, Boz Scaggs, and Todd Rundgren. Thoughtful, accessible, heartfelt, and witty, Change Coming features twelve original compositions meticulously produced by Etheredge himself. It’s a keyboard-driven aesthetic with a full band tastefully complimenting Etheredge’s luxurious playing. At opportune times, for dynamic punch, the players step out, most notably with some sizzling guitar solos and limber funk-guitar chanks.
The title track is a bravely vulnerable statement of intent—an optimistic look at an uncertain future. “That’s the theme song for my career change. I knew I could have a better life if I just trusted myself. The music was calling,” Etheredge explains. The song opens tenderly bold, with Etheredge singing: I am finished with mediocrity/And I am ready for a change/I know I can be a better man/Do more than just get by, be the best I can/Something great is in the making/I'm ready to switch it up/Make it happen - no more faking.
Here his vocals have a sweet sophistication, laid-back cool phrasing outlining an elegantly poppy vocal melody. Etheredge’s piano playing aligns rich and spacious chords with crystalline melodies. The impeccable production treatment is patient and revelatory, with tasteful nuances and details that enrich the music with dynamic subtlety. The feelings pent up in his sentiment build to a climax with gospel backup vocals, courtesy of Charlene Moore from the beloved Weather Girls and the City of Refuge Restoration Ensemble. Another treat is Tower Of Power saxophonist Tom Politzer’s silky sax solo. The change here feels redemptive, soul saving.
The gorgeous and moving “Room to Room” is a tribute to Etheredge’s mom who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s powerfully spare, just piano, stately viola flourishes, and Etheredge’s most soulful singing. His friend and, sometime creative collaborator, lyricist Michael Cronin, wrote the words. “When Michael handed me these lyrics, I just couldn’t deal with it, but over time I realized it was an important story to share,” he says.
One of the pleasures of Change Coming is its broad scope in terms of mood. The suit-and-tie funk of “Pimp You Out For Love” is joyfully irreverent. The track’s muted spy-movie guitars, playfully whispered vocals, and sharp hooks, recall the pristine funk-pop of classic Steely Dan and Joe Jackson. “Pimp was inspired by a Facebook chat I was having with a friend who was single and completely miserable. I thought if I just set him up with the perfect guy, he would stop whining,” Etheredge laughs.
Mark produced, arranged, and orchestrated the album. “I did demos at home with basic tracks and charts for the band to follow,” he says. The recording took place over the course of two months at The Annex in Menlo Park, California with tracking and mixing engineer Forrest Lawrence, noted for his work with Vienna Teng, Joan Baez, Chris Martin, Two Gallants and more. Joining Etheredge in the studio were some of the Bay Area’s finest session players, and guests such as Tower of Power saxman Tom Politzer, Weather Girl Charlene Moore, and Two Tons of Fun’s Jeanie Tracy. “Recording with Tom was a joy. I’ve always loved Tower Of Power, but never conceived of working with people at that level. Everyone’s contribution to the album brought the songs further than I could have imagined. I feel really grateful,” Etheredge says. The album was mastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer Rainer Gembalczyk
Mark Etheredge grew up surrounded by diverse music. His mom played Mozart and Chopin while his brothers played The Beatles, Doobie Brothers and Bob Dylan. His mother was a school music teacher and choir director. He grew up singing in school and church choirs, but explored piano on his own terms. “My mom tried to get me take lessons, but I refused. I liked improvising and I just taught myself,” he says. On his music journey he absorbed classical music, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Brazilian styles.