Eric Hutchinson: Moving Up, Living Down
Moving Up, Living Down
(Let’s Break/Warner Bros.)
Rating: 3.5 stars
While punk music was making its first big push into the world, Jimmy Buffett was scoring top 20 albums with his laidback, sunbaked pop-country. Despite the fact that Buffett sometimes gets a bad rap from critics, there’s an argument to be made that the musical landscape would be a much poorer place were it not for his successes. Without Buffett, there would be no Brad Paisley, Bruno Mars, etc. … and there would definitely not be an Eric Hutchinson.
What ties the D.C.-based Hutchinson to Mr. Margaritaville is a similar calm, laidback spirit, one that rarely brings the tempo above a resting heart rate and feels like a spring 35 MPH drive on a bucolic country lane. The 31-year-old songwriter pulls out a dusty drum machine to help carry the pacing of many of the songs here, a 4/4 bounce that gives him plenty of room to stretch his musical limbs. Sometimes that looks like a head-nodding slice of giddy romanticism (“Best Days”), and other times it has a vintage R&B edge (“The People I Know”). Hutchinson gives himself over to sweet little indulgences like a shuffling country beat that undercuts the sad notions of “Watching You Watch Him” or the full-on soul shakedown of “The Basement.”
What will likely keep you coming back to this album are the little details of arrangement. The low-slung backing vocal hook on the reggae-infused “Not There Yet,” the burble of a vintage synthesizer throughout “I’m Not Cool,” and how the horns and piano play off each other in “The Basement.”
Hutchinson’s best feature is his facility as a lyricist. As on past albums – especially his 2008 breakthrough release Sounds Like This – the songs here find him staring into a mirror and either giddily pointing out his flaws and idiosyncrasies or viewing them with rueful acceptance.
Just as often as he wants to kick the legs out from under his own ego (“I went out drinking in New York … trying to keep up with the bros … but when the bill came I could not pay”), he unashamedly shows off his jealously romantic side (“I give you the best a man could hope to give but I’m not feeling brave, chances are slim when I am watching you watch him”). Even on a song like “Best Days,” when he leans on an old chestnut of an idea about how we should all be happy to be alive no matter what happens (“I notice happiness depends/On people sharing with each other/Give and take we catch our breaks/We all learn to survive/But don’t look now/Cause here we are/Living the best days of our lives”) he calls himself out for being just as cynical as the rest of us.
The best moment on Moving is when he is at his most plainspoken, appropriately enough the unrequited love song “Watching You, Watching Him.” The title alone tells you everything you need to know about what’s in store, but it still doesn’t dull the effect of hearing Hutchinson open up the song with the simple sentiment of “I love you.”
Maybe you can’t live on a diet of nothing but Jimmy Buffett or Eric Hutchinson. The other musicians mentioned above would quickly cop to that, and the variations in mood and theme on their albums reflect that notion. But every once in a while, we all deserve a little bit of music that allows us to shut down our critical side, something to sink into slowly while we sing along with every word. Hutchinson may not be cool, but he’s damn fun to listen to. – ROBERT HAM