"The Largest Working Man In Show Business"
Many moons ago Michael Eck took his first bow in a rat's-ass punk rock band called The Plague; blasting out the news of the day like the Almanac Singers on crack. He hasn't shut up since; even if he has toned things down to Woody Guthrie wired on black coffee."I actually have a bust of Woody on my desk," Eck says, "just to keep me honest."
He calls his thing "maximum solo acoustic" and it's maximum in every way, from his hulking frame and primal-folk bashing to his quiet country-tinged ballads. It's roots-rock that traces the bloodline from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Hank Williams, and from Tim Hardin to Tom Waits.
.In 1995 Eck pulled out his battered old Martin and recorded his long-awaited debut album, "Cowboy Black" -- a direct to two-track collection of road-weary songs written in Texas and Louisiana. The album garnered plenty of critical acclaim and established Eck as a literate new force on the songwriting scene -- one influenced as much by Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver as by Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt.
"Resonator" followed in 1998, with a passel of guests (including vocalists Rosanne Raneri, Kris McKay and Lonesome Val) decorating Eck's distinctive tunes with an Americana palette of banjos, fiddles, dobros and more. In a full-page feature No Depression magazine compared "Resonator" to the work of Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and the brilliant but obscure Ted Hawkins.
Eck's latest album, "Small Town Blues," reflects his recent deep immersion in American folk music from the 30's and 40's, and three of the album's tunes were, in fact, recorded with the same steel-body 1931 National Triolian guitar that graces the album's cover. The National's not the only new addition -- mouthbows, washboards and harmonicas have replaced the cellos, violas and accordions of "Resonator's" more baroque moments.
"It's my best album yet," Eck says, bowing to cliche. "I went back to the live feel of "Cowboy Black" for the basic tracks, and then set the best of the "Resonator" gang loose on these new songs. It's a keeper."
For those keeping score at home, Michael Eck has recorded and performed with Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, 10,000 Maniacs and Hamell on Trial, (who dedicated his 1992 indie release "A Letter To Mike" to Eck). He has opened shows for Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds Five, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Van Ronk, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Buckner, Leon Russell and so many others. He is also the host of the long-running Borders SongWriter's Forum in Albany NY -- which has presented over 100 artists since its inception in 1994.
"Somewhere between lovelorn cowpoke and sardonic folkster is nose-pierced Albany NY dad Michael Eck, whose sharp lyrics and quick-witted guitar reflect all over like a broken mirror and shine with liberation like a tossed-aside wedding ring." - Natasha Stovall, The Village Voice
"Not your typical sensitive singer-songwriter." - Scott Aiges, New Orleans Times Picayune
"Eck is hot, not cool, a big guy with a big guitar, a bigger voice and big feelings crammed into rock and roll love songs." - Michael Hochanadel, The Daily Gazette
"There are few songwriters who stare as deeply into the abyss as Eck, and fewer still who can find hope and redemption therein by wrapping their observations around a D chord." - Paul Rapp, Metroland
"Better than Michael Stipe anyday." - Ric Williams, Austin Chronicle
"A gruff voice, acoustic guitar and stomping foot are the only tools Eck needs...and he drains every bit of power out of those tools." - Mike Goudreau, VH-1
"Eck is sometimes wistful, sometimes witty and always nearly novelistic in the vivid imagery of his folk stories. Think Townes Van Zandt. Think Guy Clark. Think James McMurtry." - John Rodat, The Source
"When I claim that Eck reminds me for all the world of early Jesse Winchester, it's with the knowledge that Jesse Winchester's early material was some of the finest songwriting ever done. "Resonator" has a genuine honesty, warmth and integrity which gives it the staying power great recordings always have -- much like those first Jesse Winchester albums." - Martin Fullington, Internet Music Reviews
"Eck grabs you with an intensity that's hard to ignore. Bold, raw and often challenging, his lyrics will accost your feelings while his guitar slaps you around 'til you have to share the suffering." - Haven James, The Woodstock Times
Small Town Blues
Song by Song Notes
Exit Wound - The title for this song rolled around in my head for a long time, with the gory visual image somehow fitting the idea of a guy taking himself out of a bad situation by force, of will if not of blued steel. Greg's mouthbow -- we call it the folk synthesizer -- and Mitch's hoodoo man vocals give it just the right amount of tension.
Lillie's Tune - This one's about my sun in the morning and my moon at night and that's all I'm going to say about that.
Have You Seen My Love - After I wrote it I recognized a thematic resemblance to Charlie Rich's ``Most Beautiful Girl in the World" (written by countrypolitan king Billy Sherrill). Both songs work on a number of levels. This might be my favorite track on the record, and yes, I would give my left leg to sing like Charlie Rich for just ten seconds.
Bottle Rocket - Much like the opening track this song spun out from the title into another loser's get the hell out of dodge tale. I'm thrilled that I finally managed to get Kevin to sit down like a truckdriver behind the pedal steel for this one, and MotherJudge sings about as blue as you can get for the folks right here.
Kind-Hearted Woman - It ain't the Robert Johnson song, and it certainly ain't about a woman who "studies evil all the time" -- just the opposite in fact. In hobo lore tramps signaled the house of a kind-hearted woman by scratching a smiling cat with a heart in its belly in the dirt or on a post in the vicinity of her digs, letting others know they could catch a meal and a flop in exchange for a little yard work. This particular bum is looking for something more permanent than a place to sleep for the night. Thanks to Michelle Shocked's album of the same name for suggesting the title.
Susan Moore - I momentarily owned a Martin D-35, and one afternoon when I hit a D chord this thing popped out just about fully blown. I'd just about overdosed myself on Kris Kristofferson that week (which is nothing but a good thing), and