REVIEW: ANDERSON EAST – ENCORE (2018)

Nashville’s newest star leaves them wanting more

His major label debut, a couple of years back, was enough to get America purring about Anderson East. “One of Nashville’s most promising new talents” is how Billboard Magazine, no less put it. Such an epithet can hang heavy around the neck of the chosen one, the next big thing, if you will.

Such talk only heightens expectation, after all. And it is into this atmosphere that East arrives with “Encore” – and let’s just say from the off that he doesn’t so much as set the bar here as clear it with ease.

There is a confident, laid back air about the opener. “King For A Day” is written with Chris and Morgane Stapleton, but it’s the weatherworn nature of the soul brew here that immediately leaps out at you. It is meant as a compliment to say that the track doesn’t sound like it was released in 2018. If it had been a Sam And Dave song, lost in some dusty vault, then you wouldn’t be shocked.

But hold on, he’s coming – as it were – with plenty more.  “This Too Shall Last” is battered, bruised and stoic. Like some mythical cross between Southside Johnny at his most lugubrious and Jarrod Dickenson, it is a showcase too for the fine band that is present here, the Hammond organ and lead guitar mesh together wonderfully.

The opening pair are no fluke, either. This is not a record with a couple of good songs front loaded and plenty  of filler. Instead quality is shot through the likes of “House Is A Building, which builds to a fine crescendo and continues the timeless feel, while classic shuffle of “If You Keep Leaving Me” benefits from some superb harmonies.

It is happy to have fun when the need presents itself too. “Girlfriend” struts its funky stuff and will have those of a certain age longing for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” as it goes about it’s business. Even better, is “Surrender” which is what it would be like if Eli Reed and Nathaniel Rateliff got together and auditioned for The Blues Brothers.

So skilled is East, though and so adept are the band that they can switch gears effortlessly. “Without You” is the sort of song that makes sense at the end of the night, when the glasses are being collected and you are searching through your phone book for that one ex who will text you back and if there’s a dry eye in the house at the end of the heartbreaking, but gorgeous, “Cabinet Door” then the world is truly finished.

Everything here is co-written or covers, but much of the attention pre-release centres around “All On My Mind” East’s collaboration with Ed Sheeran. A darker, slinkier affair than most here, it is a real highlight.

Arguably, however in a strange way, it is the covers that show the talent here. “Sorry You’re Sick” is transformed from an introspective acoustic thing to something as joyous as a Gospel recital in the deep south, with East as the fire and brimstone soul man, while Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up The Pieces” is in these hands like something Elton John would have done at his peak.

Whatever your favourite is, there is little doubt that “Encore” is a special record. Whether it is his defining moment is unclear – and he’s not yet 30 – but  it is certain that Anderson East is headed in the right direction.

Rating 9/10