Mark Eitzel played slow, sad love songs, and people booed him. They wanted to rock, and Eitzel wasn’t a rocker. This happened to him on multiple occasions with his band, American Music Club. Angry audience members would heckle the broken-hearted man emoting on stage.
The anecdote also functions as an allegory for Eitzel’s music, career, and evidently tortured love life. His protagonists have lovers who cheat, lie, and leave. But Eitzel still sings. He still writes music, and Don’t Be a Stranger is his best album in years.
Eitzel treats notes like they’re expendable resources, but he arranges them in shifty patterns that duck and dive. Don’t Be a Stranger is his jazziest record to date. On opener “I Love You But You’re Dead”, Eitzel clings to downbeats and drunken poetry. “Let’s go toast to twilight/ At the old horror house,” he whispers through a barroom haze. His words are wisely chosen, as he reaches for affecting verbs, noun, and adjectives. That logic is also applied to the varied instrumentation on Don’t Be a Stranger. A Marxophone gives “Break the Champagne” its chiming tremolos, and American Music Club guitarist Vudi drops in to add his signature embellishments, like the hyperactive fingerpicking on highlight “Oh Mercy”, which could pass for an AMC song.
Don’t Be a Stranger is grounded in a pessimistic reality. “I knew from the start/ that you could break my heart,” Eitzel croons on “Why Are You With Me”. He thinks too much; he can’t be comfortable in a relationship because he knows romance usually crumbles. And that’s the tragedy of Eitzel’s songwriting: It’s love by way of self-loathing. It’s in his arrangements, his lyrical phrasing, and even the album art: an empty room and its solitary A/C unit.
Essential Tracks: “Oh Mercy”, “Why Are You With Me”