Like many an artist who wound up on the front lines of the British Invasion in the mid '60s, Eric Burdon cut his teeth on the blues. Often, bands who would come to be known for their own music (like The Rolling Stones) started out by primarily recording covers of songs that had been made popular by American blues artists.
It isn't surprising, then, that 50 years after his career-making stint with The Animals, Burdon's latest solo album is reminiscent of those early years of singing the blues. The primary difference is that Burdon wrote most of the songs on 'Til Your River Runs Dry. But those early influences are still there, as evidenced by the fact that two of the songs on the new album are a cover of, and a tribute to Bo Diddley.
The solitude of going solo
Burdon's greatest successes came during a relatively short period between the mid '60s and the early '70s, first with The Animals, then with War.
Burdon decided to go solo in 1971. Although he has stayed the solo course for more than 40 years, he has never recaptured the success of his early career. He was inducted (as a member of The Animals) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, but for the most part has soldiered on in relative obscurity. But then one day in 2012, something happened to change that. What happened was Bruce Springsteen.
During his keynote address at South By Southwest, Springsteen gave a shout out to Burdon's influence on his music, then rocked the crowd when he invited Burdon to join him for a duet performance of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Just like that, Burdon was back on the radar. (Watch Burdon & Springsteen perform at SXSW)
Seizing the moment, Burdon quickly recorded a four-song EP with blues rock band The Greenhornes, signed a recording deal with a major label (ABKCO, for whom The Animals recorded) and began writing and recording songs for 'Til Your River Runs Dry.
In the space of less than a year, Burdon has gone from being (as he put it in the title of his 1995 album) Lost in the Halls of Fame to a re-energized singer-songwriter who "pours everything into this album, as if he realizes this is his last best shot to get the credit he's due," to quote Stephen Thomas Erlewine's allmusic review.
Back to basics
Burdon has gone back to basics with this album, treating us to some not fancy but enthusiastic blues rock. If you didn't know who he was, heard "House of the Rising Sun" then listened to this album, you wouldn't think it was the same guy. That's not a knock, it's just the natural difference in the voices of the 23 year old Burdon and the 71 year old Burdon. He still uses that voice well, punching in the right places, and seemingly having no trouble hitting the high notes. Above all, you can just tell that the man is having fun.
Among the highlights, the lead track, "Water" where the artist does revive some of that gravelly growl that made The Animals stand out from the crowd. That he is having fun really comes through in the tribute "Bo Diddley Special" and in the energy he imparts in his cover of Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me." "Memorial Day" and "Devil and Jesus" are textbook blue-eyed soul.
The only thing I found disconcerting was the spoken word passages injected into a couple of the songs. It isn't that they didn't fit, it was just that it is a departure from the artist's past work, and is (to me) a little bit overused here.
More + than -
I'm not sure that this will qualify as a "comeback" album for Burdon, but he is clearly getting some mileage from that high profile boost from The Boss. On balance, this is (if I may use the term once more) a fun album to listen to. For those of us old enough to have experienced Burden 1.0, it's gratifying to know that he can still write, still sing, still do both well, and have a good time doing it.
Release date: 1/29/13
Review date: 2/11/13
Available on CD, LP and MP3