Eric Bolander defines Kentucky music at its finest with new album
Whenever I hear people reference the “Kentucky music scene,” I get slightly aggravated. Not because it isn’t a scene – it is, but it’s also so much more than that. I usually refer to it as a community, or a family, rather than a scene. I do that simply because I think scene doesn’t do it proper justice.
In a scene, you have a lot of musicians, usually of the same sound. But here, the Kentucky music community has bands of all kinds. Country and Americana surely, but also rock, bluegrass, indie, folk, and even funk and R&B. What makes it a family is because all these artists support one another. There is barely a shred of ego or jealousy between bands.
Eric Bolander is a prime example of what makes our Kentucky music scene amazing. If you’re familiar with our music community here in the bluegrass state, you surely are familiar with Bubba Bo. Not only is he a supremely talented artist, boasting an incredible voice and creating some of the best music in the Commonwealth, but he is an even better human. He is a living, breathing example of why this is so much more than a scene. Eric spends more time helping other artists than he does himself, whether it’s guiding them in how to get a record done, helping get them shows, or just promoting them on his social media. He’s as genuine and good natured as anyone in this Kentucky music family, so it’s high time he gets the credit he deserves, too.
His new album, “Can’t Get There From Here” drops this Friday, February 18th. To celebrate, he’s hosting an album release party at the heart of Kentucky music: the Burl in Lexington on Saturday. Click here for tickets.
When folks think of our Kentucky music scene, they may not realize just how diverse it is unless they’ve really done their research. Eric Bolander isn’t making music that sounds like anything else out there, and that’s what makes it so special. While he doesn’t shy away from it being labeled as Americana if that’s what the listener prefers, anyone who listens to his music will instantly understand that his music is way more textured than your typical Americana listen.
Eric’s personal taste in music is as diverse as anyone I know, so it’s no surprise that his album comes across showcasing a wide variety of flavors. Rock, country, R&B, folk, blues, and even metal are genres that Eric enjoys, and you can hear twinges of each in some form or another on this album. The main accompaniment on this album comes from the incredible cello talents of Seth Murphy and drummer Ben Caldwell. Usually performing as a trio, the soundscape created sounds like a much larger band. It’s folky but heavy, a little country and bluesy, and something completely different and unique to anything else being done in our Kentucky music scene right now. He notes: “I wanted this album to encompass many of my musical influences as well as represent my past/present musical experience. Metal and rock have both been genres that I gravitate to as a fan and a songwriter, I wanted to reflect some of that in Can’t Get There From Here while maintaining the integrity of my overall sound.”
We were lucky enough to get to get a sneak peak of “Can’t Get There From Here” and let me tell you, in a year that in its infancy has already produced some incredible records, I can say with the utmost confidence that this is going to be one of the best of 2022.
The album starts with a 25 second intro of Seth’s cello work – a low, droning and foreboding piece that is chock full of emotion and atmosphere despite being just a few layers of cello. It’s a perfect intro to the record and precursor for the next track.
“Window” starts out with more of Seth’s cello work, but it’s anything but typical. It sounds like a cello doing this chugging, metal riff. It’s a rhythm that sticks to your brain like peanut butter in the best way possible. In the song, Bolander laments “I see you crawling, out the window / I see you burning all the bridges that you know”. The lyrics leave a lot to the listeners interpretation, which I love. The song is incredibly well crafted, and really puts his vocals and songwriting talents on display. It is one of my favorites of the album.
The opening sequence of “Magic Moon” has an almost country feel, before taking an immediate turn. The song is an opus to mental freedom, being able to live within oneself while also being in tune with the universe. Ben’s drumming really stands out here, and the cymbal use throughout each verse is a perfect compliment. Seth also comes through with an incredible bass solo, followed by a great electric guitar solo as well. Similar to “Window”, this song has been out in the universe for a while and is another one of my favorites on the album. It’s dynamic, rich, and full, and is an anthem for those who are striving to live a life of peaceful simplicity.
“Cold Men” is not only one of my favorite tracks on the album, but one of my favorite songs Bolander has ever written. While it’s true I have a connection to this song and it’s origins, and that it’s about a subject near and dear to my heart, that’s not the reason. It’s because it’s damn near a perfect song in every aspect. Bolander took a left from his typical songwriting style, and not only wrote a character-based song, but did so from a perspective that takes a lot of imagination, creativity, and intellect. The song was written about the Blackjewel mining strikes, and he wrote the song prior to coming to Bell County to perform at the Music For Miners Benefit that we hosted at the Bell Theater. I asked him to reflect on the song’s origins: “As a songwriter in Kentucky I felt compelled to pen a song about that specific situation. I think it’s almost a duty as a songwriter/folk singer to address issues of people that may not have a voice. Cold Men is my small contribution to the issues that plague eastern Kentucky and beyond.”
A beautiful piano intro starts “I’ve Only Started,” a track penned about remaining positive despite sometimes things aren’t progressing as fast as you’d like them to. “And it feels like I’ve only started/And it feels as if there’s nowhere for us to fall apart/And it feels like we’re back at the start.” This is another track where Seth’s cello work really shines, as does Eric’s voice. The song can be looked at from opposite perspectives, and the title is a great play on words from both viewpoints: One that you’re just getting started on a path to success, another feeling like you’re back to where you started despite the hard work you’ve put in.
“Beggin’ For Change” is Bolander’s homage to the blues and is an older tune that he often performs with his rock side project Alcatraz Shakedown. The riff is super catchy, and the Hammond B3 organ is a perfect addition to the atmosphere of the track. The song dynamic staggers left and right, like a drunk down a back alley in Memphis. But through each change, the chorus is right there with Bolander’s powerful voice bringing the listener back to the base. The latter part of the song features an incredible horn section, which shows Bolander’s willingness to add a new layer of sound to this album. This is one you’ll be singing along to when it’s played live, no question.
Introspection and self-examination are the major themes of “As The Night Sky Breaks.” The song title itself lends itself to the dark side of being human, but if you dig enough you’ll find a semblance of hope within the context of the song. The song reaches deep down into both, finding that the weight of love can conquer any situation, no matter how dire. The mid-tempo track is a testament to holding on, to finding a way. “Weigh your love/Holding on restless, we’re all leaving messes/Weigh your love/The scales leaning over, it’s getting colder.” Seth and Ben both shine again on this track, and Bolander’s vocals are as powerful and profound as ever.
“Montgomery Hill” is a track that Eric has played for years and finally decided to record. It’s always been a staple of his set and one of his fan favorites, so having it make the cut for the new record is something his fans will surely rejoice over. The song is a shrine to home, to the place that everyone feels like their true self at. The track goes through various life stages and experiences, with the common theme of place being the thing that ties the human experience together. Growing up in eastern Kentucky, we all have our own Montgomery Hill, regardless of what it’s called.
There’s one cover on the album, and that’s Eric’s version of Derek Spencer’s incredible track “The Fighter”. Eric is one of Derek’s biggest supporters, and this cover is a fantastic homage to his friend. When asking about why he wanted to include this track, he said, “Derek has been a great friend and fellow musician for several years now. I’ve respected him as a songwriter since the first time I met him. We were playing a songwriter round at the old Willie’s Locally Known and quickly became buds. When I heard his song “The Fighter” it floored me. So it was an easy decision for me to cut that song on this new album.”
Hints of bluegrass permeate through “I Wonder” with a banjo providing a perfect accompaniment to Eric’s signature trio sound. The chorus of this track is as strong as any on the album, and this album is chock full of great chorus. Few artists understand the power of how a chorus can tie an entire song and album together like Eric. The songwriting is absolutely top notch too, maybe the best on the album. The song is a testament to the human element of wonder, to asking the questions we know we will never have an answer to while on this earth but asking them anyway. “Came into this world with wonder/It’ll stay with me til I leave/Had a raging sense of hunger more than you can believe”.
“Wade Out Alone” showcases Bolander’s mastery of making a chorus that is simple and one dimensional but still jaw-droppingly powerful. Seth’s cello work is exemplary, and Ben provides amazing backing vocals on this track. There’s a guitar lick played almost in the background that really sticks with the listener, and the lyrics are strangely empowering despite being mainly about the injustices that seem to prevail in the world. Sometimes the simplest message is the most powerful, and that is definitely the case here.
There may’ve never been a more appropriate title than the album’s closing track, “Smooth Finish”. The track features the beautiful and haunting accompanying vocals from fellow Kentuckian Abby Hamilton. The title is of course a play on words for drinking bourbon, which the narrator finds himself using as a crutch throughout a rough portion of his life. The melancholy track has an almost ethereal feel to it, as the narrator laments a relationship destined to end and a life stuck in sad routine. The soft piano scattered throughout give the song the perfect soundscape, and Bolander and Abby’s voices harmonize together flawlessly.
Guest contributor, Jon Grace, currently serves as Tourism Director with the Bell County Tourism in Kentucky. Jon helps organize the Middlesboro Levitt AMP concert series, providing musical entertainment across multiple genres. In his free time, he enjoys attending concerts with his wife, as well as entertain others with his Audio Outlaws broadcast every Monday from 8-10pm on WRIL. The broadcast features outlaw and classic country, Americana, bluegrass, southern rock and and blues. Jon has contributed several stories to Kentucky Country Music to help highlight the best festivals, concerts, albums, and adventures from here in Kentucky.