Mark Ettinger is a monster songwriter. Monster. Capital M. Unlike others, he is so comfortable with himself that he adapts bits of various genres to his songs rather than trying to fit within the genre. The result is a freeflowing and seemingly effortless stream of great pop songs, each with its own touch of, say, cajun or folk or whatever style Ettinger felt comfortable with at the time. Kind of like Lennon and McCartney in the middle of Beatles-dom, he grasps the essence of melody and makes it work. And it is fresh.
The CD starts, inoccuously enough, with a touch of dixieland and vaudeville (and pop—always pop) in Come Back Home. The 17 second lead-in on the old Victrola (The Victrola Mix) is a perfect setup for the seamless beginning of the song which startles you awake even when you expect it. Throw in accordion and a touch of cajun and, again, a whole lot of pop and Into An Hourglass is a great followup. Light and bouncy, it has the upbeat feel of Billy Swan's "I Can Help" but doesn't sound anything like it, if that makes any sense.
I could go on, but there are 14 more here and it would probably bore you to tears, so let me touch upon my favorites (Ettinger's picks for Djs are Feed Us All (Papa Ray), the aforementioned Into An Hourglass and Hey Darling). The first to really floor me was Chester Town and is a cross between early Jackson Browne and The Band. In fact, if I heard this track on the first or second Band LP, I would not have been surprised. Do You Know the Way Home? is an Americana-inspired melodic showstopper. Simple in structure and melody, it rides on the light, folky feel (Adrienne Young, record this song!) and feels right to me. In the early 70s, a band called Glencoe caught my ear with their use of electric piano and it took me awhile, but I recalled it after hearing How Can I Be Sad? a few times. Presented here as light rocker, it captures that Glencoe sound to perfection. And Strange Emotions? What can I say except wow! If Browne or Robbie Robertson had recorded it, people would be fighting to get it first. You listening, Robbie? Supported by something called a bass harmonica (sounds like a synthesizer-controlled didgeridoo) and with strings toward the end, it ends up being a mini-symphony in its presentation. I am carried away by the end and after a number of listens have not even begun to tire of it.
This album is mostly Ettinger, but he brought along a handful of friends who really do the job. Most notably, of course, there is Billy Oskay, at whose studio the basic tracks were recorded. Christine DiTolvo holds back on her harmonies beautifully, when present, as does Kate Copeland. John Olufs' guitar and dobro are always spot on and Kenny Wollesen is everpresent on percussion. A fine job by all and well recorded to boot.
If you're a pop fan or an Americana fan, you will find plenty to like on this album. If you're a performer, pay attention. Ettinger is a songwriter of note. Of such a note that this CD will dominate my player for some time to come.
Now, the disclaimer. Mark Ettinger is not really a musician. Okay, he is, but until recently, he made his living as a juggler. That's right. A juggler. The Flying Karamazov Brothers have lived off of his sense of timing for years and, well, if you have not seen them, you have missed something.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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