Year In Review, Vol. 3 - Eric Wolfson

This December, to celebrate the music of 2007, I asked a bunch of the artists I’ve featured on PHW over the last 11 months to share their thoughts on the “year that was”. I asked a mix of my favorite local artists, as well as several larger acts, with the hope of having a diverse assortment of reflections on the music that mattered to the artists that mattered to me.

Eric Wolfson is one of the local New York artists I came across this year whose music completely blew me away. After spending the past few years honing his chops at the Sidewalk Café open mic, and befriending most of the best musicians on that scene, Wolfson recorded his debut LP, the Dylan-infused State Street Rambler. Through its 11 tracks he writes and sings as if he’s a Dylan-scholar - with the “thin, wild mercury sound” the swirling organ provides on “Cross The River”, or the steamrolling folk-blues of “Graveyard Girls”, which sounds like it was lifted straight off of Side 1 of Highway 61 Revisited. Hell, there’s a song called “North Country Girl Blues”. But all of this Dylan aping wouldn’t work if Wolfson wasn’t so convincing at it. The dude can flat out write, and his songs, while mirroring those of his obvious idol, reflect the pained, confused, and open heart of its creator. State Street Rambler is a swaggering, poignant procession down an imagined highway 61 running through the heart of New York City. On it Wolfson captures the beautiful chaos of the city - its passions, histories, fairytales, corner bars, clear skies and dirty underground with a startling precision. And yes, he sounds like Dylan doing it.

MP3 :: Graveyard Girls
(from State Street Rambler. Buy here)

Here is Eric Wolfson’s Personal Best List For 2007 (and Eric, if you want a non-paying job contributing to this blog, you're in! This is awesome...):

* Best Album, Indie: Frank Hoier, Love Is War

The release of folk singer-songwriter Frank Hoier’s debut album came and went this year with little attention or fanfare, which is too bad, because it’s a hell of a record. Hoier has that rare Dylan-esque gift of writing a song that sounds like it’s been around forever – that mystic, instantly-classic feel. Recorded with next-to-no overdubs at Major Matt Mason USA’s studio, Love Is War finds Hoier trying on a never-ending series of masks – the weary soldier of the title track, the jilted lover of “New York City Girls,” the lonely jailbird of “Heartless Words,” the drunken bootlegger of “Moonshiner” (the sole song on the album that Hoier didn’t write; oddly, it’s one of the few tracks on the album that he still performs live), the young child of “Little Lamplight,” the old man of “Deathbed (of a Rich Man)” – all delivered with the surprising fullness of his acoustic guitar and harmonica and the warmth of his sometimes melancholy, sometimes ironic, but always pretty voice. And it’s the voice that stays with you in the end. I know in my mind that Frank Hoier is a twenty-something kid from LA who talks like a twenty-something kid from the Midwestern heartland, but when he sings of fearing the chain gang, I believe him, just as I believe him when he sings that the New York City girls won’t call you back. And that’s not even mentioning the album’s third song, which is the most perfect protest song written yet this millennium: “Jesus (Don’t Give Tax Breaks).” You owe it to yourself – and your country – to check it out.

* Best Album, Major: Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
A white British woman reminds the world what soul music (and a pop song) really is – everything I’ve always read that Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis is supposed to be, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black actually is. Hipster tested, soccer mom approved.

* Best Film: Into the Wild
Easily the most mind-blowing film I have ever seen. Lasting for a little over two hours, the movie threw me in a jaded, depressive funk for close to two weeks. Never before had a film called into question so much – never before had a film provided so many answers that seemed simultaneously personal yet universal. And then I got my hands on the book that the film is based on, which blew my mind all over again.

* Best Television Program: YouTube
From the epic silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc from 1928 to Nancy Regan appearing on Diff’rent Strokes in 1983, herein lays the subconscious of culture – anything you can think of, at the tip of your fingertips, in tasty ten-minute bytes. And, if you have a laptop, you can watch it all in bed.

* Best Book: Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor
This book tackles the most tangled and elusive subject matter of them all – authenticity – and provides an astonishingly clear survey of it through the popular music ages. The result is a camera obscura where nothing is what it seems; along the way, old heroes are celebrated (Neil Young), new heroes are discovered (Donna Summer!), and the most empty artists of them all (the Archies??) are turned inside-out into benchmarks of just how sophisticated the issues of authenticity have become.

* Best CD Reissue: Various Artists, People Take Warning!: Disaster Songs and Murder Ballads, 1913-1938
The Old, Weird America faces the Apocalypse. Disc One, Man vs. Machine, is all train wrecks and sunken ships; Disc Two, Man vs. Nature, is all floods and hurricanes; Disc Three, Man vs. Man, is all murder ballads. Some of it gloriously wonderful (“Wreck of the Old 97” by the Skillet Lickers), some of it is fascinatingly terrible (“Ohio Prison Fire” by Bob Miller), some of it is shockingly timeless (“When the Levee Breaks” by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie), some of it is esoterically dated (“The Trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Parts 1 & 2” by Bill Cox), but the best of it, like mush-mouthed white blues singer and slide guitarist Frank Hutchison’s “Last Scene of the Titanic” – where he evokes the captain checking the doomed ship’s instruments on one deck while the people dance to pop songs in the decks below – plays like an unfinished riddle, a faded old photographed pulled out of context with no caption or clues.

* Best DVD Reissue: The Jazz Singer (Three-Disc Deluxe Edition)
(Young Immigrant + Musical Ambition ÷ Jewish Faith) x Unintentional Racism = America (in the form of its “first” talking film)

* Best Musical: Grey Gardens
If you’ve used or seen any New York public transportation in the last year, you probably know the premise: “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale are mother-and-daughter high society dropouts (and Jackie O relatives) who live in the condemned squalor and filth of their once-majestic, now-dilapidated East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens. But what makes this once tragic (in its original documentary form), now comedic (in its new Broadway form) tale so powerful is its vindication of its central figure, “Little Edie,” who walks around in confusion and madness, always performing to a crowd she thinks is there, which – thanks to the musical – it now is. As that great philosopher Paul McCartney once said: “And though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway.”

* Best Concert: Antifolk Covers Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea
Conceived of and organized by Erin Regan – the finest antifolker who has yet to release an album – the bill read of a virtual who’s who of New York’s Antifolk scene, including Regan, Major Matt Mason USA, and members of Soft Black, Urban Barnyard, and the Elastic No-No Band. Regan herself turned the sometimes tedious “Oh Comely” into a stunning work of beauty, while Whisper Doll’s Daniel Bernstein hauntingly cut through “Communist Daughter” like a cold knife. But most significant of all was the return of MIA antifolker Mike Baglivi, who had disappeared suddenly the previous summer after receiving a stellar write-up in the New York Times for his powerhouse performance at the Antifolk Fest. Now he appeared onstage with fellow New Jersey rocker Vin “Soft Black” Cacchione to sing the album’s title track; Vin sang the verses, Baglivi, the bridge. And Baglivi sang the bridge beautifully like the Prodigal Son returning home – resulting in one of the most memorable live moments I’ve witnessed in this or any year.

* Best Performance: Creaky Boards plays the Antihoot
Five men: Andrew Hoepfner, Michael David Campbell, Eric Wolfson, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and Dan Costello. Four instruments: drums (Campbell), bass (Wolfson), guitar (Tyler-Ameen), and piano (Costello). Three minutes: the length of the average Creaky Boards song. Two songs: “I’m So Serious (This Time)” and “I Cannot Love You.” One standing ovation: the first (and so far only) one in the history of the Antihoot, New York City’s longest-running open mic.


David said...

Oh. Rats. I thought you meant Woolfson with two o's.

Must be my age showing.

James said...

No, this Wolfson, thankfully, has nothing to do, to my knowledge, with the Alan Parsons Project.

However, you should check out his music, as it is quite good nonetheless.