Eric Andersen has never been one for standing still. His restless travels from continent to continent, from innocence to experience, have shaped his songs into cinematic vignettes of troubled love and existential unease simmering in a dark and haunting blend of folk, blues, jazz and other roots music.
For the first-ever live album in his career, which encompasses more than forty years and over two dozen albums (including six previous Appleseed releases), Andersen chose to enlist a Norwegian blues band to help him shake off the “acoustic troubadour” tag he outgrew so long ago and to give his songs “a new, different kind of edge.” His gentle, early standards from the ’60s such as “Thirsty Boots” and “Violets of Dawn” won’t be found on this CD. Blue Rain, recorded at an Oslo club in June 2006, focuses mostly on Andersen compositions dating back to the title song of his 1972 masterwork, Blue River, presented in elegantly brooding electric arrangements.
Andersen is hardly a blues novice. He accompanied harp-player J.C. Burris on San Francisco street corners in 1963 and watched Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and many other legendary musicians work their primal magic in Greenwich Village clubs in the mid-’60s. He’s covered or written blues songs as far back as his first album in 1965, and half of his 2000 CD, You Can’t Relive the Past, was recorded with hardcore North Mississippi bluesmen. Even so, he’s wise enough to avoid contorting his material on Blue Rain into a standard 12-bar format – he takes care of the genre's traditions here with a raucous, uptempo version of Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” and a slow-burning take on “Losing Hand,” first popularized by Ray Charles.
Andersen’s own songs, and the cover version of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life” that opens the CD, are hypnotically well-served by Andersen’s gruff but sensuous baritone, the hovering tremolo of his electric guitar, and the exquisitely attuned support of lead guitarist Morten Omlid, bassist Jens Haugland, and drummer Eskil Aasland, three-fourths of Norway’s Spoonful of Blues band. Despite only one previous performance together (at the 2005 Notodden Blues Festival in Norway) and a few rehearsals, Andersen and the Spoonful musicians fit together seamlessly – the noir-ish intimacy and ache of songs like “The Blues Keep Falling Like the Rain,” “Trouble in Paris” and “Sheila” are retained and enhanced by Omlid’s alternately spiky and coiling guitar and the unobtrusive push of the rhythm section. The volume climbs on the torrid, desperate “Runaway” and the muscular, seething rendition of “You Can’t Relive the Past” (a Lou Reed co-write) that closes the CD, while Andersen, Omlid and guest Scandinavian bluesman Vidar Busk all contribute stinging guitar solos to “Losing Hand.” Andersen varies the mood by playing piano on two tracks, including the appropriately titled “Don’t It Make You Wanna Sing the Blues,” a poignantly weary, previously unrecorded original ballad.
Blue Rain proves conclusively that there’s more than one way to sing the blues – Andersen himself describes the CD as “bluesy folk-soul,” which perfectly captures its essence. Whatever it’s called, this is lasting music from one of the finest singers and songwriters of our time.
Reviews"for this live outing, he laid aside his 1960s classics like "Thirsty