by James Campion
If there is an overriding theme to Eric Hutchinson’s career, it is his relentless pursuit of the kind of feel-good music that will make his fans dance and sing while still managing to ponder the beauty and humor that comes from fully experiencing life. This journey had come to a crossroads this past year, as the 35 year-old singer/songwriter/performer changed management, stripped down his sound and embraced the mantle of producer, all the while spending months working on his fourth studio album, Easy Street.
A collection of penetratingly honest songs, Easy Street is a musical snapshot of perseverance and musical maturity brimming with superb melodies and contagious rhythms. It is also a reckoning with the inevitability of Hutchinson’s own evolution as an artist and a man.
"I see this new album as an embrace of change," says Hutchinson. "I guess you can say I grew up a traditionalist – worrying about things changing and wanting to keep them the same. But once I realized that things change no matter what, there’s comfort in that; embracing immediately that it takes me a little while to get used to things… and then I usually like them."
Change for Hutchinson also meant letting go of the reins in the writing and recording process, which is especially prevalent on the album’s first single, "Anyone Who Knows Me", a wonderfully crafted and stirringly melodic ballad of trying to find love within and without.
"I was stuck writing the song, so I just put it away and when I came back to it, it was like somebody else had sent it to me to work on, and I thought, ‘Okay, cool; I’ll build on top of whatever this guy was doing.’ It felt like co-writing with myself, which was fun."
Another challenge for Hutchinson on Easy Street was his role as sole producer, as he had to make all of the final decisions. "In the early days I always felt like I had to do everything myself," he says. "This time I said, ‘I’m producing this, so why not let Elliott (longtime touring bandleader, Elliott Blaufuss) play the piano, because he plays it a little better than I might. It was nice to have that confidence that it’s still my music, whoever plays it. That was a big change for me."
Easy Street is arguably Hutchinson’s most insightful and in some ways autobiographical work, which manages to balance the profound concepts of evolving and acceptance into a relatable sonic expression. "Things are gonna change, but change is better than you thought" he sings in the strikingly confessional "Dear Me" that opens the album, setting the stage for this creative catharsis. "See my reflection now in all of the trends/in isolation with the words of my friends" he sings with stark resonance in "Bored to Death", a song that dissects a world view set against personal and satirical introspection.
In fact, each song on Easy Street is a study in personal, professional and generational divides; including the seemingly airy if not catchy pop of "Lost in Paradise" that speaks to the wanderer in us all. Hutchinson also plays with music biz preconceptions, specifically facing the gnawing guilt over success in "Good Rhythm" or his escaping the shadow of his musical heroes to forge his own unique voice in "Same Old Thing".
"When I was growing up I thought, ‘I’ll never be my heroes’," he admits. "And with this album I say ‘I don’t want to be my heroes. I want to be me.’"
This has taken many forms for Hutchinson since he released his first album, Sounds Like This in 2007. Raised in Washington D.C., Eric now works and lives in New York City, where he has begun writing and producing records for other artists. He has also started DJ-ing regularly, presenting The Basement, his passion project of spinning Motown, Soul, Funk & Oldies.
Eric is an advocate for Operation Smile and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.