By: Dennis Cook
I'm blacking out in the morning/ Stay numb all day
Sliding down on the edge of a razor/ I've got a lifetime to pay
I'm keeping up with destruction/ I've got a foot in the grave
I kiss the mouth of corruption/ I've got a lifetime to pay
Give me one bad reason why I should and I will
Eric McFadden is both salty and salt of the earth, spewing truths in a way that leaves the dirt on the roots. His primary vehicle, the Eric McFadden Trio (EMT), snake-handles his tunes with crunchy, ground zero forcefulness that embraces and celebrates rock's intrinsically broad umbrella – a genre born of blues and country but capable of drawing energy from just about anywhere. EMT's new album, Delicate Thing (Deathbunny Records), is really appealing from end to end. Where some of his earlier records like Joy of Suffering were intense, amazing works, one really had to commit to them to have the full experience. There's more swerve, more embracing fire to Delicate Thing, though the dark mind behind everything remains firmly planted in thick, redolent earthiness and complicated emotions underpinned by the strongest overall songwriting, singing and arranging of his career. Encompassing rockers, instrumentals and fragrant hybrids, McFadden's diversity never feels a clutter but instead flows from a cohesive center – a single gifted musician's ranging imagination.
"[That diversity] has been a challenge. I used to have too many bands, which I thought was a way to address how I like to do so many things. But, I came to realize they've become somewhat of a detriment to me, career wise. Some people encouraged me to cut back because it was confusing and overwhelming and people couldn't quite figure out what I do. I've done that, and outside of a few collaborations I jump into, I only have EMT and one larger ensemble I do sometimes," says McFadden. "The big contributing factor to [Delicate Thing] and EMT in general is James [Whiton, bass]. When people see James it shatters the whole idea of what a bass can do."
One of the core pleasures with McFadden and many of his collaborators - including drummers Jeff Cohen who rounds out EMT on Delicate Thing or Doug Port who currently plays with them live - is how they take their instruments into fresh places, tugging newness from weathered wood and shiny strings, eroding preconceptions note by note. If only for his ceaseless forward march in this area, McFadden should be far better known as a guitarist than his highly devoted cult following, which admittedly includes former bosses George Clinton and Eric Burdon (The Animals) as well as Widespread Panic's Dave Schools, his bandmate in sometimes (but not often enough) super group Stockholm Syndrome. In McFadden one hears the usual high end six-string influences like Django Reinhardt and Jimi Hendrix but also the brute beauty of Sabbath's Tony Iommi, the slinking, pointed genius of Robert Fripp, the popping dance of Andrés Segovia and the tube amp flight of Mike Oldfield.
"There's a lot of great guitar players, players I've always loved who play the guitar in much the fashion you'd expect them to and they do it really well. Then there's people like Nels Cline," offers McFadden. "I am a guitar player that's been striving to improve constantly and who's been influenced by a number of players, so it's not easy for me to be ultra impressed. On the other hand, I'm also the kind of person who's impressed by different facets. I don't need someone to be a virtuoso or shredder to be impressed. Sometimes somebody's style or touch moves me. Jim Campilongo is one of my favorites."
|Eric McFadden Trio by RK Riekman|
McFadden doesn't play a straight electric guitar very often. He prefers old archtop and nylon string Spanish guitars. However, a number of his regular axes look beaten and close to the scrap heap.
"Some of them have lived a little too much [laughs]. I'm trying to keep them alive. That Gibson I play is from the early '30s and it's taken a lot of abuse, and I don't know how much more it can withstand. I've met someone, Roger Fritz from Mendocino, a luthier amongst other things. He used to work for Gibson and he's going to work with me to keep my guitar functional. It can only last so long so I need to find other guitars, but nothing can really replace it. That guitar is so unique and special to me. With other guitars it's like, 'I can get away with playing this one but... [trails off],'" says McFadden, who uses both the pure tones of these antique instruments but also isn't afraid to mess and manipulate that sound as suits his needs. McFadden is no purist.
"There are usually two sides to the fence. For a while I was more on the side of the purists but eventually thought, 'What's the point of that?' For the sake of it? What the fuck!' I believe in limitations, in the sense that when you have to work with limitations you really rise to the occasion, make more out of less," says McFadden. "I like the idea of having restrictions because it forces you to think outside of the box. Your handicap becomes your advantage. I don't want to make things too easy for myself. How am I going to grow that way? With the instrument you play it's not just a matter of exploring different avenues musically but also technically, like when you have to fight an instrument to get something out of it. That's very different than having a guitar you can play with ease with your fingertips. With these guitars the challenge was it was no longer comfortable or easy. I had limited access on the fretboard, it was far more difficult to bend the strings and more difficult to fret in general. It changed the way I approached my guitar playing."
|Eric McFadden by Andy Tennille|
McFadden is a lifer along the lines of Chuck Prophet and Alejandro Escovedo, dyed-in-the-wool musicians' musicians that have evolved into consistently excellent songwriters along the way. It's a quiet sort of triumph, rarely trumpeted in the mainstream but cherished by those who recognize lovingly created, intelligent, emotion filled music, work of individual character that still cuts across common ground. Delicate Thing stacks up nicely and naturally with Escovedo's much ballyhooed Real Animal (2008) and Prophet's stunning, slept on Soap and Water (2007), albums that point to long futures of excellence. Like his peers, McFadden has figured out a few things and he's nice enough to impart them, rarely more clearly or readily than on Delicate Thing.
"I want my songwriting to grow. It's a process, everything is, but my standards are high. When I think of songwriters I think of people like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Chuck Prophet, Lucinda Williams and pat mAcdonald. That's holding oneself to a pretty high standard! It's easy to feel like you suck by comparison [laughs]. I always need to push just beyond my current abilities," says McFadden. "I need to be out of my comfort zone. I'm not comfortable when I'm NOT out of my comfort zone! Not just musically but also financially – and don't get me wrong, I want money, everybody wants money. I want to be able to buy a house. I'm sick of struggling and wondering how I'm going to pay the bills each month. But, I've traded that money in on a few occasions, like when I left P-Funk or Eric Burdon and the Animals to dedicate more time to my own music. At the same time I had to take a 75-percent pay cut. It's not as satisfying as one's own work but it's a great education, and I'm always grateful for these opportunities and experiences."
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