Give a listen to any of Heath Eric's music and that's the first thing you'll notice. Nowhere is this on better display than in "39," the song that shares its name with his newest album, released April 1 on Rumsey Records.
Pondering another birthday, Eric takes a long, hard look in the mirror with the introspective, sometimes plaintive, number. It's not a happy song or a sad song -- just a look at the middle of life.
When Eric sings "I've felt joy, I've felt pain and I've had some fun along the way," it could be a description of the album as much as of his life.
Part new material, part live album and part retrospective, the record features songs from a 20-year span of Eric's life. The impression the listener comes away with is of a performer who has always poured his soul into his music.
The new recordings include the title track and lead single "What Does It Take?" which opens the record.
The opener is a delightful example of Heath's and partner Molly G's view of the positive impact their music can have, as they ask "What does it take to stop the hate?" Their answer is "peace, love, joy and diversity," a simple solution, yet one we seem to keep falling short of.
The song is also a wonderful studio example of Heath and Molly singing together. Although she tours extensively with him, his 2009 album "Finally Gettin' It" featured only one duet. Thankfully, the new record features a lot more of their magical interplay.
Fans of "Finally Gettin' It" also have the treat of live versions of four songs from the album, including the duet "Hand in Hand" and "Fishin' at the Creek with My T," Heath's tribute to his oldest son.
The really surprising treat of this album, though is the old stuff. "Vision of Innocence" is a song Eric co-wrote in the early '90s and has recorded several times since. On this disc, we get a beautiful 2002 rendition with his former band Underground Vibe.
Two straight Underground Vibe songs throw listeners used to Eric's Kentucky folk music a curve at the end of the record, with more of a soulful funky sound. "Live Before You Die" and the live version of "Workin' on a Good Hurt" stand in contrast to Eric's current country folk sound. You can still hear the soul, though, and that's what really counts.
My spin: B
Heath Eric's "39" throws a lot at the listener, from old to new. By trying to take in new songs and a 20-year-old recording that only survived on a taped-together cassette ("Rainy Day Blues") it sometimes struggles as a cohesive unit.
What it lacks here, though, it more than makes up for in quality of the individual songs. Eric has a unique songwriting voice and a rare ability to smile through pretty much everything. His music can't help but make listeners smile as well.
The album is available for download at www.digstation.com/heatheric, as well as iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon. The CD can be purchased at www.heatheric.com. Because Eric runs his own operation, signed copies are always an option.