Cliff Eberhardt

500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions

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Cliff Eberhardt may have come up on the same '80s East Coast singer/songwriter scene as Shawn Colvin, Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, et al., but even from the beginning he had rock & roll -- and even pop -- aspirations. His early albums found him leaning toward Springsteen-esque heartland rock and almost John Waite-ish balladry as much as the folkish approach of his aforementioned peers, and his rough-edged voice and hook-centric songwriting made it all work. The further into his career he gets, however, the more he concentrates on spare, acoustic-based settings and slow, soulful ballads. Call it "maturity," "evolution," or "back to basics," the important thing is that he can pull it off a hell of a lot more convincingly than some straight-up rocker for whom the acoustic troubadour mode is an unprecedented step. On this, the eighth album of a recording career that began in 1990, the fiftysomething songwriter furthers the organic, as-close-to-live-as-possible approach of his preceding release, The High Above and the Down Below, sounding completely at ease in this mode. Sometimes, as on "Have a Little Heart" and a remake of "The Long Road," the title track from his '90 debut album, Eberhardt lays into a big, bold pop melody that wouldn't sound out of place being belted out by an American Idol contestant (that's not a pejorative statement). But for the most part, his gritty, soul-soaked voice leans comfortably into more low-key constructions. Most of these songs have the feel of hard-earned wisdom from a man who has run life's emotional gauntlet and emerged with not just some trenchant, humbly offered observations, but the knowledge that the best way to put them across is a soft sell.

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