Chris Eckman’s songs cannot easily be categorized or pigeonholed. While much of his writing has a decidedly literary bent that leans toward themes of loneliness, darkness and the desperation of people who have lost all hope, the stories he tells refuse to be cornered or made to comply with particular sets of characters, circumstances or locales. His songs repeatedly return to the lonely, quiet and often overlooked landscapes of back woods, the plains and the desert, places where he, figuratively and perhaps literally, seems to feel the most at home. But this inclination does not prevent the people he sings about from closing raucous bars and happily stumbling down rough-hewn cobblestone streets before the city wakes, or loving each other.
Eckman’s musical influences and references, broadly spanning punk and post-punk, ambient, African music, British and American folk, blues and country, and the sweeping string arrangements that appear in the music of artists such as Gene Pitney and Harry Nilsson, have always centered on the song, as evidenced by his early admiration of the crisp, angular and literate songs of groups like Television and The Jam to the carefully crafted “Brill Building” songwriting style of Randy Newman. And no attempt to describe Eckman’s songs would be complete without referring to the alternately fragile and loud, whisper-delicate and careening songs of Neil Young, the poetry of Bob Dylan, and the emotional honesty and heartbreak of Townes Van Zandt, all of whom are towering influences on his work. While all of these influences and more can be found in Eckman’s songwriting, through a lifetime dedicated to his craft he has perfected the ever elusive, alchemical forging of something that is his own, singular and new, from the raw ore of what has come before.
In addition to Chris Eckman’s four solo albums presented here, his prolific body of work includes many years as the songwriter, guitarist and co-singer of The Walkabouts, his folk-rock duo with Walkabouts partner Carla Torgerson aptly named Chris & Carla, Slovenian band The Strange, and Dirt Music, a musical partnership with former Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds member Hugo Race that was formed in the North African desert.