12 Songs of Good and Evil

Cliff Eberhardt

(RHR CD 105)

Red House Records
PO Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104


A review written for Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Shawn Linderman

There's a well-known phenomenon is physics: a pure note can effect a sympathetic vibration in a crystal goblet. Given sufficient source volume, the crystal will resonate until it disrupts the molecular structure and the glass shatters.

Cliff Eberhardt has the same ability to disintegrate the carefully structured barriers we build to keep emotional pain at bay. His emotive power is such that he doesn't so much play and sing as he creates an emotional carrier wave that directly impinges on the listener's true self. Passing invisibly through facades, striking and destroying the inner defenses, he resurrects our deepest hurts and we are confronted with them all over again.

Now, I wouldn't normally recommend subjecting your psyche to such shocking re-exposures, but when Cliff opens that floodgate, he does so with such perfect understanding and empathy that, after the song is over, a rapid re-healing occurs. But this time the barriers aren't as high, nor strong, because they no longer need to be. Therein lies the true greatness of Cliff Eberhardt. He will reach you at least once--probably several times--on this emotional level with his new 1997 release, 12 Songs of Good and Evil.

If you've ever watched a friend or family member slowly destroy themselves with drugs or alcohol, or some other destructive behavior, Joey's Arms will be your gut-wrencher. This song doubles as an exploration of love as a desire for completeness versus love as as an obsessive dependency.

Do you have a spot of resentment (or envy) reserved for that irrepressible spirit that turned your household, neighborhood or town on its ear? Cliff's going to make you question those emotional responses with The Devil in Me:

It must be a sin to be so alive
They want to put out the fire
and the passion inside

Cliff's songwriting skill has been heralded by music critics from coast to coast, and I can't think of a better example of this ability than in his diverse treatments of a common theme in the back-to-back love songs, This Old World and Someone Like You. In "This Old World," Cliff's slow, soulful dobro playing sustains a mournful yet affirming acknowledgment of love's power:

Been seeing lots of things I never saw
I used to close my eyes
I can't live in this old world
If I can't live with you

Then he leaps into the bouncy, pop-savvy Someone Like You. Don't be surprised if you hear this song on mainstream radio--I'll be surprised if we don't. Great tempo, great lyrical hooks. Most of the tunes here fall under either the "Good" or "Evil" category. They explore how our adherence to varying levels of morality influences our decisions, and the effects those decisions have on our lives. In contrast, Thieves and Kings depicts how both good and evil battle within us all the time.

No one's always good
I've met some saints in jail . . .

Like so many of Eberhardt's tunes, several layers of meaning hide in the lyrics. On the surface, the protagonist simply notes he's found good and evil where one wouldn't expect to find them. On another level, he reveals his own character via his ability to recognize these attributes. And a third level: what's he doing in jail himself? A fourth: What if he's being sarcastic in his use of "saint"? Keep peeling! This is Cliff Eberhardt, the songwriter.

If you've had the great fortune of attending his live performances, you know how easily Cliff Eberhardt can reach inside you to pluck a tear or a smile. The minimal production and fluid assistance by his supporting musicians (including the lovely and very talented singer Liz Queler) do well to preserve the magic of his concerts. I own every Eberhardt CD and I value 12 Songs of Good and Evil over all the rest. Like Carol King's Tapestry or Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, it has "classic" written all over it.

Edited by Jeff Wenning

Copyright 1997, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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