Highly prolific duo Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz are now back with their fourth installment to their “music in the time of coronavirus” collection, Variant Blues. On this ten-track release, the two once more show their mastery with the Americana, indie folk and singer/songwriter genres and give their all in fleshing out these acoustic-based numbers.
In regards to their two most recent releases, Stuck Inside and Variant Blues, Anders says: “Both albums are full of songs that try to capture something about these times of a global pandemic, climate change and the rise of new forms of very old right-wing ideologies. Some thorough references to history, some with references to the poet Emily Dickinson, and others that are more directly about these troubled times we live in.
“We had hoped to get into the studio to finish these albums during the spring and summer of 2021, but the Delta variant kept us all at home. These two albums were done almost completely remotely – 90% remotely – with regard to the three principles: me, Mark O’Bitz, and Mike Butler, our producer.”
On their latest project, Anders and O’Bitz are joined by Jenn Grinels (backing vocals), Matt Lynott (drums), Bill Terry (pedal steel) and Tim McNally (strings). Together this group of musicians bring in a timeless acoustic sound rooted in Americana and folk that will leave a lot of audiences wanting more.
Variant Blues begins with “Far Gone” that starts off to a sauntering groove. The meandering instrumentals come in with a mellow vibe. Once Anders’ vocals arrive, you can get a fuller sense of his range with his singing executed in a falsetto. There was a melancholy sense to the music as he sings about how “far gone” the times are in this anti-Trump song. His searing portrayal of the world today is a relevant look into our society and what we could do for the future. “Oh To Leave Here” starts off with some dynamic strumming from the acoustic guitar. The band brings in a warm and intimate vibe right from the start. Anders’ vocals arrive with more of his emotional delivery. I was loving how immediate and dramatic the sounds coming across here sounded. The lush background vocals were also another great addition. More dramatic renderings on the guitar arrive on “We’ll Get There Soon.” The warm acoustic sounds reel in the vibes. Soon after, the drums and bass accompany the guitar for a more full-on sound. Anders really sounds great here as he reels us in with his emotionally powerful vocals.
An intimate vibe arrives as more acoustic guitar sounds out on “Err On The Side Of Love.” Right away, Anders’ vocal harmonies join in with the moody vibes on the guitar for a resonating acoustic feel. As some electric guitar weaves into the sound along with some drums, the sauntering vibes get fully realized as the band eases into their acoustic sound. Some strings also add a lush and dramatic appeal here. More stirring sounds come from the acoustic guitar on “Bang Goes The Gun.” Some strings reel us in with a dramatic vibe, which was a great addition to the sounds overall. Anders’ vocals come in up-close-and-personal for an intimate performance. The band charges forward with more of their intense sound with this full band undertaking on “Beyond Silence.” The instrumentals all came together to great effect. I was loving how emotional and poignant Anders’ vocals were. He really packs in the mood and feeling to his execution, driving home a very powerful and at times, bewildering sound. Some steel lap guitars also add in a dynamic element to the vibes.
On “Just A Game,” more acoustic guitar solely comes to the forefront towards the start of this track. Right away an immediate sense is realized once Anders’ evocative vocal harmonies enter. I was mesmerized from the start of the band’s startling delivery. I could hear the low stirring sounds of the strings adding a chilling undercurrent to the music. “Tired Love” is another piano-based song from the band. As emotions take flight, Anders reels you in with his soaring emotionally powered vocals. You can feel the emotions behind his delivery and performance. I loved the band’s great acoustic sound here. The strings also tied the music together nicely. A strong and intimate sound comes from the acoustic guitar on “Lopsided Gyre (Revisited).” Anders’ vocals join in, bringing the intensity up another notch. Next, more instrumentals pull listeners in. The band sends us off with another resonating number from them.
Anders and O’Bitz reels listeners right from the get-go with their unforgettable sound. With a warm vibe, Anders’ dynamic falsetto vocals have a way of drawing listeners closer into the sounds. You can tell that the band is taking their time on these releases as they unhurriedly let these sets of songs build and grow on their own. The way they seem to nurture their craft is seen in this artistic endeavor as the sounds seem to unfold and develop on their own. Anders and O’Bitz are undeniably talented and their truly emotional resonant vocals and musicianship could be seen in every little detail of Variant Blues, a release that sees the band taking the aforementioned genres to whole new heights.
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