(Low Country Sound/Elektra)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
New artist debuts don’t come with much more industry buzz than the first release from singer/songwriter Anderson East. High profile opening slots for Brandi Carlile, the John Butler Trio and Kristin Diable along with a live in the studio session recorded at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals and easy availability on the web has stimulated the public’s appetite months before this album was due. For better or worse, that sets expectations higher than those of most new artists. Thankfully, East meets them in 10 tracks and 33 minutes.
“Baby I’m burning/yearning inside,” are the first words you hear, sung in East’s distinctive honey whiskeyed voice. And for the next 30 minutes he proves it. From easy rolling ballads such as the sultry “What a Woman Wants to Hear” to full blown Stax styled horn enhanced burners like the first single “Satisfy Me,” East digs into this material with sweat soaked conviction. As befits his rugged singing, the songs are romantic in nature. That allows him to beg, plead and testify with gospel styled faith and sincerity against a slightly retro, rootsy R&B that never feels musty or derivative.
A heavy dose of soul/blues informs “All I’ll Ever Need,” “Devil in Me” and the chugging “I Can’t Quit You,” two tracks that would have fit fine in Otis Redding’s catalog. There is a throaty batch of Joe Cocker influence too, not just in East’s blue eyed soul vocals, but the charging R&B laced churchy rocking of a cover of George Jackson’s “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em” which also brings his Mitch Ryder influences into play.
Add names such as Frankie Miller and Van Morrison (East does a dynamite cover of Van’s “Tupelo Honey” in concert) to the mix and it’s clear what path East is on. This is the first entry for producer Dave Cobb’s (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson) label and the most overtly soul drenched project he has been involved in. While the material is top flight and the arrangements tight, Cobb deserves credit for keeping the sound taut and compact (only one track breaks the 4 minute mark) yet open and focused.
If there is any complaint, it’s that there aren’t enough songs and at slightly over 30 minutes, it’s over too soon, but that just whets our appetite for more. We’ll see where East goes from this promising start.