Take your pick for what genre you would like to associate with Nashville-born singer Anderson East: Southern soul, Americana, Rhythm and Blues, Roots rock, Blues rock, gospel-infused country, or all of the above. In his latest record Encore, produced by Dave Cobb, East weaves these cross-genre components into a sensual and strong record that, at its worst, can be cluttered with overproduction and, at its best, can brilliantly combine the rawness of a Southern soul sound with artfulness and craftsmanship.
Equipped with an exceptional voice of rasp and depth, East knows precisely when to let it loose and when to contain it. The record starts off gently with “King for a Day,” on which East leans toward letting the tight arrangement do the talking for him. He sings about taking a romantic leap of faith, how he would “rather be king for a day than a fool forever,” with poise.
The rest of the record is backed by this composure, as if East is standing behind a gramophone
as it plays, smoking a cigarette and smirking at you. This scene particularly presents itself on “If You Keep Leaving Me,” a slow tempo, organ-filled insight into melancholy that builds into a big crescendo equipped with choir-backing and all. This song leads into what is undoubtedly the grittiest track on the record in “Girlfriend,” on which East shrugs his vocal shoulders and sings, “I ain’t gonna say I’m sorry now / I think I’m in love with your girlfriend,” an assertion followed by a big homophony of horns that really drives that marquee statement home.
The big standouts on Encore include “House Is a Building,” that features a little bit of philosophy from East as he muses, “If a house is a building, home is a feeling.” The orchestrated number builds from a simple piano melody in the beginning to a short saxophone solo that perfectly caps off the song. Another stand-out is “Surrender,” on which East’s textured vocals reach their full potential as he dots the syncopated music behind him with well-placed wails and outbursts.
East closes out the record with “Cabinet Door,” a somber dive into having loved and lost. His wails take a backseat to a crooning and emotional tone that reveals sheer honesty and affection behind his mask of suave poise. “Cabinet Door” comes off as nearly untouched by the tweaks of production and proves that East can deliver a strong and moving performance with a simple melody and his arcane vocals.
The gospel influence on the record is evident, and enforces the recent surge of gospel into the contemporary music scene. The influence has been most apparent in hip-hop with landmark artists like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper, bringing emotion and euphoria to their respectives spheres of the industry. This does not mean that this practice is common only in genres like hip-hop. In Encore, Anderson East finds a way to tie his gospel influences into the sort of “neo-country” Americana sound that is becoming more and more prevalent in music these days. With the big “pop-folk” bands like Mumford and Sons paving the way for more independently known artists like Jason Isbell and, Anderson East, up-and-coming Americana artists are finding new and brilliant ways to revive the vintage Southern-soul sound that popular country music today has all but stomped out in favor of stock guitar licks and an engineered attempt at grit and twang.
As a whole, Encore comes off best as a progression from beginning to end. The project supports itself as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, but won’t boast any top 10 hits on the Billboard 100. Nevertheless, East endows his music with a constant and deserving spot on our playlists with Encore, and leaves us hoping he’ll soon fulfill the promise the album’s title suggests once more.
Featured Image by Elektra Records