After recording a set of idiosyncratically rendered cover tunes on 2002's Music for Courage and Confidence, Mark Eitzel has chosen to take a revisionist look at his own back catalog, with a decidedly unexpected twist, for this set. On The Ugly American, Eitzel has re-recorded nine songs he wrote during his tenure with American Music Club (along with one likeminded cover) in collaboration with a group of Greek musicians, who accompany him on bouzouki, mandolin, and zourna, as well as the more traditional guitar, bass, and drums. While at first the idea might sound like some sort of practical joke to some fans, the execution is genuinely impressive; the musicians are gifted and tasteful enough not to overstate the Hellenic accents of the new arrangements (especially Manolis Karantinis on mandolin and bouzouki and Manos Ahalinotopoulos on winds and reeds), and the mysterious Mediterranean sounds of the instruments mesh quite well with the minor-key moods of Eitzel's songs, not unlike the work of another great failed romantic who came to love Greek music, Leonard Cohen. Best of all, Eitzel's vocals are superb, sounding supple and beautifully modulated on every cut, and his English-language adaptation of producer Manolis Famellos' "Love's Humming" suggests Eitzel found himself amidst kindred spirits during his stay in Athens. While Mark Eitzel probably wouldn't be well advised to take on Greek music as a full-time pursuit, The Ugly American is certainly a fascinating and pleasurable detour that casts some of his best songs in a new light, and once again demonstrates how beautiful and heart-wrenching they can be.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming