Artist: Eric Hutchinson
Album: Moving Up, Living Down
Label: Warner Bros.
Eric Hutchinson is something of a prodigal son. He signed with Maverick Records some years ago, but the label went under before he could put out his debut record. The plucky artist released the album himself, and following considerable acclaim, he was picked up by Warner Bros. This kind of determined, diligent attitude underpins Moving Up, Living Down, his second full length record. The product of feverish touring and transcontinental producing, it’s a breezy, enjoyable listen filled with pleasant tracks and summery vibes. Hutchinson is a talented writer, with an ear for gently catchy songs and decorative instrumentation. The songs are mostly pop, but there are infusions of reggae and soul at times, ensuring the album has a wide appeal that reflects its well-travelled origins.
“Talk Is Cheap,” the opening track, is a light-hearted and jovial number with an island feel. It’s relatively simple, but effective, and its reggae dabbling ways put an obvious spring in its step. As an album opener, it’s probably not as mind-blowing as it could be, but it does set a fine benchmark for the rest of the album in terms of its colour and spirit. “Best Days” is also warm and bright, with an enthusiastic world view behind its lyrics. Hutchinson has said he wrote the track while reflecting on his lengthy spells on the road in recent years, and there is a sincere nostalgic affection coursing through it. Contrary to what many bands might write, it’s neither dogged nor weary, and merely celebrates the breadth and scope of this adventuring with its surly tempo and exuberant vocals.
“The Basement” is the first song to flex some muscle. With the addition of some brass instruments, a significantly pacier tempo, and more concerted vocals, it exudes plenty of flair and spirit and acts as a pleasingly understated throwback to yesteryear. The liveliness of the music is difficult to resist, and as it foregoes more wayward rhythms in favour of something chirpy and animated, it has an infectious appeal unlike the earlier songs. “Watching You Watch Him” won an early fan-base with a recent outing on Grey’s Anatomy. The music is sunny in tone, but the lyrics tinge this with a longing sadness. Hutchinson sings very lovingly and affectionately, though his harrowing sentiment is off-kilter with the boisterous music. It’s very colourful despite the subject matter, with a big swaying chorus and mischievous guitar work ensuring it’s more exhilarating than dramatic. “Breakdown More” then is an older song; its appearance on an early EP winning it a firm following amongst Hutchinson’s fans. The version that appears here is emotive, vulnerable, and simplistic, with temperate, pensive guitars and softer vocals to match. The lyrics are heartfelt but engaging, displaying a sublime tenderness and bravery. Even at this early stage, Hutchinson displays an impressive dexterity and diversity in his writing. He is equally at home with more playful, experimental tracks and conventional shows of emotion, underscoring each with careful, enhancing instrumental touches. There’s a wistful and understated guitar harmony to “Breakdown More” that adds depth and resonance to the emotion, for instance, while the kookier notes of “Living In the Afterlife” are enlivened by bombastic percussion and a serene piano verse.
“I’m Not Cool” is charismatic, led by a typically engaging vocal performance that allows it to add up to more than the sum of its parts. “Not There Yet” is an inquisitive and meandering track with a cheeky, confident air. Hutchinson sings about progress and maturity but with a pleasingly passive tone in his voice, so that it remains as irreverent and breezy as the album opener. This is, in and of itself, a fine place to end the album, though the bonus track “Lisa” is endearing enough.
Moving Up, Living Down is a genuinely uplifting, pleasant album with an enthusiastic and widespread appeal. It will suit pop aficionados looking for something with a bit more sparkle and jazz, but is colourful enough to win a niche audience as well. It highlights the ear and vision of Hutchinson, and the exuberance of his writing marks him out as a thinking man’s minstrel.
Review written by Grace Duffy