michael eck  
homelabelgigsbiocritics commentsalbums
bio head

the real michael eck


The skinny on
"The Largest Working Man In Show Business"

Saratoga blues man Phil Drum often refers to Michael Eck as a “songster,” a descendant of those street singers who had little regard for definitions of style, preferring instead to play all types of songs as long as they moved either the heart or the feet. Eck has certainly spent some time listening to the likes of Lead Belly, Skip James and Woody Guthrie but he’s also dropped the needle on Joe Henry, Dave Alvin and Gillian Welch.

If he is a songster, it’s of a very contemporary stripe.

As a songwriter, Eck does his best to fuse the drive and passion of those early greats with a modern lyrical sense all his own. He calls his thing "maximum solo acoustic" and it's maximum in every way, from his hulking frame and primal-folk bashing to his quiet country-tinged ballads. It's roots-rock that traces the bloodline from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Hank Williams, and from Tim Hardin to Tom Waits.

In 1995, after years spent in too many hardcore, cowpunk and R&B bands to mention, Eck pulled out his battered old Martin D-18 and recorded his long-awaited debut album, "Cowboy Black" -- a direct to two-track collection of road-weary songs written in Texas and Louisiana. The album garnered plenty of critical acclaim and established Eck as a literate new force on the songwriting scene -- one influenced as much by Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver as by Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt.

"Resonator" followed in 1998, with a passel of guests (including vocalists Rosanne Raneri, Kris McKay and Lonesome Val) decorating Eck's distinctive tunes with an Americana palette of banjos, fiddles, dobros and more. In a full-page feature No Depression magazine compared "Resonator" to the work of Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and the brilliant but obscure Ted Hawkins.

A third release, 2000’s "Small Town Blues," reflected Eck’s deep immersion in American folk music of the 30's and 40's, and three of the album's tunes were, in fact, recorded with the same steel-body 1931 National Triolian guitar that graces the album's cover. The National wasn’t the only new addition -- mouthbows, washboards and harmonicas also replaced the cellos, violas and accordions of "Resonator's" more baroque moments.

Now, a decade later -- most of it spent painting those same blues heroes; producing albums for others; and picking mandolin with Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders -- Eck returns to what guitarist Bill Nelson once termed “the calm persistence of plastic” with a live album recorded at Exit 97.7/WEXT

“In My Shoes” is actually Eck’s first entirely solo album, as “Cowboy Black” spotlighted dobro man Kevin Maul on a number of tracks; and it features the best of a big batch of songs that have been brewing for a decade -- ever since his last release and the subsequent dissolution of the Boston indie label behind both “Resonator” and “Small Town Blues.”

“Shoes,” Eck says, “is sort of a new chapter and an old chapter for me, at the same time.”

“I’m feeling incredibly good about being back in bands as a sideman, which is where I started. But I’m also excited about getting back on the horse by myself, which is where I ended up. It’s all music, and I’m good with that.”

For those keeping score at home, Michael Eck has recorded and performed with Patti Smith, Pete Seeger, Aimee Mann, Jason Ringenberg, Jon Brion, 10,000 Maniacs and Hamell on Trial, (who dedicated his 1992 indie release "A Letter To Mike" to Eck). He has opened shows for Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds Five, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Van Ronk, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Buckner, Leon Russell and so many others. He was host of the long-running Borders SongWriters Forum and has produced albums for Coal Palace Kings, Jim Gaudet, Blue Wilder, The Plague and others. His songs have been featured on albums by Rosanne Raneri, Jim Gaudet, Frank Jaklitsch and Kevin Maul. He is a member of Ramblin Jug Stompers) and Lost Radio Rounders and he endorses instruments made by The Loar .