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The Ugly American

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Album Review

After recording a set of idiosyncratically rendered cover tunes on 2002's Music for Courage and Confidence, Mark Eitzel has chosen to take a revisionist look at his own back catalog, with a decidedly unexpected twist, for this set. On The Ugly American, Eitzel has re-recorded nine songs he wrote during his tenure with American Music Club (along with one likeminded cover) in collaboration with a group of Greek musicians, who accompany him on bouzouki, mandolin, and zourna, as well as the more traditional guitar, bass, and drums. While at first the idea might sound like some sort of practical joke to some fans, the execution is genuinely impressive; the musicians are gifted and tasteful enough not to overstate the Hellenic accents of the new arrangements (especially Manolis Karantinis on mandolin and bouzouki and Manos Ahalinotopoulos on winds and reeds), and the mysterious Mediterranean sounds of the instruments mesh quite well with the minor-key moods of Eitzel's songs, not unlike the work of another great failed romantic who came to love Greek music, Leonard Cohen. Best of all, Eitzel's vocals are superb, sounding supple and beautifully modulated on every cut, and his English-language adaptation of producer Manolis Famellos' "Love's Humming" suggests Eitzel found himself amidst kindred spirits during his stay in Athens. While Mark Eitzel probably wouldn't be well advised to take on Greek music as a full-time pursuit, The Ugly American is certainly a fascinating and pleasurable detour that casts some of his best songs in a new light, and once again demonstrates how beautiful and heart-wrenching they can be.


Born: 30 January 1959 in Walnut Creek, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most celebrated and idiosyncratic American songwriters of his generation, Mark Eitzel is best known as the leader of the iconic indie rock band American Music Club, who spun beautifully chaotic webs of guitar from Eitzel's gloomy but compassionate studies of lost souls and alcohol; since striking out on his own, Eitzel has embraced a number of different musical approaches, while his witty but downcast lyrical style has remained constant. John Mark Eitzel was born in the Northern California...
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The Ugly American, Mark Eitzel
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