First time I met Cliff Eberhardt he told me the story of meeting Mary of Peter, Paul and… He was backstage changing strings in the only dressing room when Mary bustled in, looked him over and said, "Who the **** are you?" Cliff looked up from his labors and said, "I'm Cliff Eberhardt, who the **** are you?" After that they got on famously. Most people wouldn't have had the stones to give Mary back what she dishes out, but Cliff Eberhardt has the self-assurance of a guy who knows he's very good at what he does. He is, for lack of a higher accolade, a consummate pro. On The High Above and The Down Below he delivers his best album yet.
It's been five years since Cliff Eberhardt's last album. The hiatus wasn't because of artistic block, but due to the effects of a severe car accident. After two back surgeries and months of physical therapy Eberhardt has returned to his regular life. "After my accident I realized that it's not about where you are going but where you are that matters." As you might expect the subject matter of his new songs displays a tendency to dwell on the here and now. His lyrics have never been of the "moon, June, spoon" variety, but on The High Above and the Down Below Eberhardt expands his literary lexicon well past the usual limits of pop music. Eberhardt's melodies also stretch beyond the usual singer/songwriter conventions. These songs sound as if they were originally written on a piano rather than a guitar. Some tunes such as "After the Rain Falls" and "Assembly Line" harken back to a Tin Pan Alley structure of ascending and descending melody lines.
Produced by Red House Records executive Eric Peltoniemi, and recorded in Red House Record's hometown, Minneapolis, MN, The High Above and the Down Below was recorded very "old school." All the songs were done with a small band, all at the same time in one place with very few overdubs. This method gives the album a more cohesive sonic and musical texture than most contemporary albums. The arrangements also have more space so the music comes out of silence, similar to what you might hear late at night in a perfect little jazz club filled with an attentive audience. Even the CD's cover graphics display an homage to the designs found on early Blue Note, Impulse, and Verve jazz LPs. The core band is a simple trio with Rich Dworsky on piano and keyboards, Gordy Johnson on electric and acoustic bass, J.T. Bates on drums and percussion. Cliff Eberhardt handles all the vocals, acoustic, and electric guitars. There's nary a harmony vocalist or second vocal track to be found anywhere on the album.
Contemporary pop music offers little in the way of fresh yet mature music for those of us who have been around awhile. The High Above and the Down Below helps tip the balance. Cliff Eberhardt has delivered an adult masterwork worthy of your full attention.