American Music Club

Love Songs for Patriots

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Reunion albums are often tricky affairs, usually based around negative circumstances (typically solo career slumps) rather than positive ones, so it's neither uncommon nor unwise for fans to approach them with a degree of caution. When American Music Club called it quits in 1995, most folks were expecting an impressive solo career from vocalist and songwriter Mark Eitzel, but while he failed to capture the brass ring of a breakthrough commercial success (no great surprise, given the downbeat tenor of his music, though Warner Bros. seemed to be hoping otherwise at first), the greatest problem that's dogged him since AMC's demise has been his difficulty in finding a consistent set of sympathetic musical collaborators. Listening to American Music Club's first album in ten years, Love Songs for Patriots, what's most immediately striking is the way the fusion of beauty and chaos generated by the musicians so ideally mirrors Eitzel's songwriting, and how keenly their contribution has been missed in his solo work. While American Music Club was often regarded as Mark Eitzel and four other guys during their initial lifetime, the jagged panoramas of Vudi's guitar and the patient but ominous report of Dan Pearson's bass and Tim Mooney's drums create such perfect settings for these songs here that you sense this was that rare reunion prompted by aesthetics above all else, and this album truly succeeds on a creative level. The absence of Bruce Kaphan's evocative pedal steel work is felt (especially the way he at once buffered and strengthened Vudi's pillars of sound), but Marc Capelle's keyboards fill their space well enough, and while Eitzel's songwriting has changed a bit since the last time American Music Club went into the studio (the dark sexuality of "Patriot's Heart" and the first-person vignette of "Myopic Books" are the clearest examples), this band still knows more of what to make of his sensuous depression than anyone else, and both songwriter and musician bring out the best in one another on this set. Love Songs for Patriots isn't an American Music Club masterpiece in the manner of Everclear or Mercury, but it's certainly a stronger and more coherent effort than the group's last set, 1994's San Francisco, and while it's too early to tell if this is a new start of a last hurrah for AMC, it at least shows that their formula still yields potent results. Here's hoping Eitzel and Vudi have more where this came from.

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