Mark Eitzel

West

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For his sophomore solo effort, West, Mark Eitzel teamed with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck; given that several of the songs recorded during the sessions were originally intended as material for Buck's day job, it's no great surprise that the album sounds much like R.E.M. circa Out of Time or Automatic for the People, favoring gorgeously spare acoustic arrangements. Eitzel has never sounded looser or more carefree than he does here -- tracks like "Free of Harm" and the exhilarating "In Your Life" are positively sunny by his usual standards, upbeat declarations of love and commitment lifted by Buck's trademark guitar jangle; even the drinking songs, like "Fresh Screwdriver," offer an uncharacteristic ray of hope. Still, while West is an improvement over Eitzel's solo debut, 60 Watt Silver Lining, it nevertheless suffers in comparison to his work with American Music Club; without the galvanizing eclecticism of his old band, his songs occasionally lack distinction, but at his best -- the opening "If You Have to Ask," "Then It Really Happens" -- Eitzel remains one of the most transcendent figures on the musical landscape.

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