Anderson East styles himself as a hardscrabble soul troubadour, a decision that runs the risk of the 29-year-old singer seeming affected by attempting to appear wise beyond his years. To his credit, Encore -- his second album, released at the dawn of 2018 -- does indeed feel lived-in, as if it were born from experience. Some of this can be chalked up to producer Dave Cobb, a veteran from East's 2015 debut, Delilah, who gives the album a leathery, retro-soul vibe straight out of Muscle Shoals. Cobb may be conjuring the past but it's in an effort to place East as part of a tradition, and one that isn't strictly soul, either. Encore certainly simmers to a sultry, soulful groove, but East is aware that Southern music isn't limited to R&B. That much can be gleaned from his choice of covers: the latter-day Willie Nelson number "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces" and "Sorry You're Sick" by folk-blues icon Ted Hawkins, intimate numbers that are turned into unabashed soul songs by East. Such reinterpretations smear the borders separating genres, but what's even more interesting about East is how he personalizes his hybrids. Much of this is achieved by interpolating Van Morrison's Irish testifying -- his debt is apparent whenever the tempo slows, as it does on "This Too Shall Last" -- but East never sounds like a mimic, thanks to his sharply rendered words and vivid melodies. If he sometimes sounds like he leans too hard into his rasp, this vocal tic is mitigated by those songwriting skills and the supple sound of Cobb's production, elements that turn Encore into a minor gem.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine