ERIC ANDERSEN is not one who has been graced with the best of luck.
As an itinerant folkie, he always seemed to hover just under the cutting edge of success, constructing two obvious standards (‘Thirsty Boots’ and ‘Violets of Dawn’) while the rest of his delicate, arch song writing was regrettably put to pasture. When electricity thrust its crackling shadow over the field, his unfortunate move was to go back and re-do his second album (though it must be admitted that the follow-up, More Hits from Tin Can Alley, might stand as his best early effort); the craze for Nashville music had him missing the boat with A Country Dream, despite the fact that it contained such diverse elementals as a lovely ‘Waves of Freedom’ and Otis Redding’s ‘The Dock of the Bay’. He was under the eye of Brian Epstein for a time, shortly before those eyes closed forever, and spent a few seasons with Warners, where a permanent hold seemed placed on his career, singer-songwriter explosion or no.
But Blue River, if there is any justice left in the world at all, should finally be the one to take care of him in the way he’s always deserved. An exquisitely crafted, methodically paced and beautiful album, it’s easily Eric’s steadiest work to date. After the winnowing of the past years, it appears as if he’s framed his music in just those settings which seem to best enchance his talent, and with Quadrafonic – the same studio that moved Joan “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” Baez into the Top Ten a while back – doing its remarkable thing behind him, it’s hard to see how the combination could fail.
Andersen is generally most comfortable when portraying an omnipresent mood of melancholia, the kind of feeling that comes late at night when the house is asleep and you’re left with just your thoughts to keep you company. Blue River indulges that facet to the fullest, letting his expressive voice linger on lines like “Sittin’ here forgotten like a book upon a shelf/No one there to turn the page, you’re left to read yourself.” Yet he never becomes lost in the facile despair which might here provide a logical conclusion. Rather, there’s a very real sense of uplift that permeates the album, buoyed by a gospel-like air of hope that hints, as in the title track, of how things will just “…keep right on rollin’/ All along the shore line,” a redemption born of time and patience if nothing else.
More, Eric has shown in this collection (as he has many times in the past, from ‘Everything Ain’t Been Said’ to ‘Miss Lonely Are You Blue’) that when it comes to writing love soap, he has few pretenders and fewer equals. This should not be unexpected – one of the dominant themes of Blue River is the search for succor through a friend, through someone whom he might reach out and touch in a fundamental way – and his ability to capture the most prosaic of situations and let them loose on their smallest, intrinsically sentimental and touching levels has long been his major strength as an artist.
‘Faithful’, for instance, revolving around the kind of motto-oriented tag line in which Music City seems to revel (“Though I have not always been faithful/I always have been true”), is very nearly as perfect an understatement as you could get, a steady succession of verse and chorus that leaves you not a little unmoved by their close-to-home flavor. ‘Wind and Sand’ describes a father’s thoughts on his unborn child; ‘Round The Bend’ is “Like a bird on a lonely wind/Looking for his own…” Even when he deals with Janis Joplin (‘Pearl’s Goodtime Blues’), his eye rivets not on her tragic stardom but her off-stage qualities of sociability, utilizing a series of vignettes that bring her magic sharply into focus, much as if you’d known her all your life.
Throughout, the backing is impeccable, with sparkling instrumental and choral overlays, the arrangements working to good purpose at all times. Blue River is surely Eric Andersen’s finest hour, and I hope it only comes to mean that his fortune is about to take a giant step for the better.
© Lenny Kaye, Rolling Stone, 17 August 1972