Cliff Eberhardt

Live at Speakeasy

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Late in this live recording, made in a tiny club in Greenwich Village, Cliff Eberhardt comments that it's been a challenge playing his songs without a band, using only his own acoustic guitar and the electric bass of Mark Dann. By then, you can certainly believe that he's more accustomed to band work, since, despite the instrumentation and the locale, he seems like anything but a folkie. Folkies don't generally derive their throaty, expressive vocal style from Ray Charles or their driving, percussive guitar playing from Pete Townshend. But such musical references come as easily in trying to describe Eberhardt's sound as the folk influences are scarce. True, Bob Dylan's in there somewhere, and definitely Richie Havens, but a closer approximation of the artist's elastic, sandpaper tenor is found in Leon Russell. He has two modes, fast and slow, and, for the most part, one subject, romantic discord due to geographic separation. Eberhardt is a witty writer -- "I went away to try to make a little money/and a little money's all I have," he sings in "Nickel and Dime" -- but the lyrics take a backseat to the expression of them. Perhaps the best song is the one that breaks out of the usual subject matter, "My Father's Shoes," as forceful a declaration of independence as anything in Bruce Springsteen's catalog. A good part of the charm of the recording (which he sold at his gigs before he got a record contract) comes from his interaction with the small audience, which cheers enthusiastically. His humor undercuts the sometimes overwrought nature of the subject matter and the performances. He can't be that obsessed, you figure, if he can joke about it. Then again, maybe he can. This impressive 16-song tape boded well for Eberhardt's future as a recording artist.