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Eric Carmen

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‘Brand New Year’ for songwriting legend Carmen
First new release in 16 years
 
Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014
CARLO WOLFF 
CJN Staff Reporter
 
The voice hypnotizes even by phone. It belongs to Eric Carmen, the child prodigy from Lyndhurst who became a sensation in the Raspberries, the band he and guitarist Wally Bryson led from 1970 to 1975. As identifiable as those of contemporaries Elton John and Billy Joel, it’s a voice built for lyrics of desire and vulnerability, a blend Carmen perfected in his power pop and soft rock of the 1970s and 1980s. Mellifluous and wet, it’s also just right for “Brand New Year,†Carmen’s first solo recording in 16 years.
 
A ballad in unusual time, “Brand New Year†caps “The Essential Eric Carmen,†a two-CD, 30-track anthology set for release on Tuesday, March 25. The compilation opens with “Get the Message,†the B-side of a 45-rpm single he recorded in 1968 with Cyrus Erie, a band that also included Bryson, his chief Raspberries associate. It’s an energetic track Carmen dissects in candid, personal liner notes accompanying the anthology, noting the 2014 version is a great improvement on the original.
 
This “Essential†features all of Carmen’s hits, from the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way†and “Overnight Sensation†to “Make Me Lose Control,†a 1988 smash that lays Meatloafian bombast over sultry Latin rhythms conjuring an old Ben E. King track. The anthology affirms Carmen’s talent for writing songs of broad appeal, including the 1974 solo hit “All by Myself†(which incorporates a melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff); the confessional, literate “Boats Against the Current†from 1977; the souped-up ’50s rock of “Hey Deanie†and “That’s Rock N’ Roll†(also late-’70s hits for teen throb Shaun Cassidy); and “Ecstasy,†a hormone-heavy Raspberries tune recorded live in 2005 during a reunion tour.
 
Does the set signal a full-blown Carmen revival? It was hard to tell from a Feb. 27 interview with Carmen from his Gates Mills home. For now, he’s focused on spreading the word of the anthology and its stunning closing track.
 
Though he’d love to tour with the band with which he recorded “Brand New Year†in Los Angeles in December, Carmen said that at 64, he might not have as much appetite for the road as he used to. At the same time, he said playing dates with these musicians – all close to the iconic Beach Boy Brian Wilson – would be fabulous.
 
“I know the band would be great,†he said. “The question is, would it make enough money to afford it? It would be great fun, on a limited basis, because they’re kind of my dream band, these guys. On the other hand, I don’t see wanting to go on the road 150 days a year. It was fun in my 20s, but not so much now.â€
 
Working with three members of the Wondermints, a vocal group of remarkable versatility that animated Wilson’s “Smile†tours nine and 10 years ago, and Beach Boys musical director Jeff Foskett was great, Carmen said, noting Wilson, the head of the Beach Boys, is one of his idols.
The “Brand New Year†project took seed last fall when Wilson and guitarist Jeff Beck co-headlined a date at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron.
 
Backstage last Oct. 27, when Carmen told Foskett he was working on the collection, Foskett said he would love to work with Carmen, who calls himself one of “Brian’s groupies.†And when Timothy J. Smith, who produced the anthology for Legacy Recordings, told Carmen he planned to launch it with the Cyrus Erie track and needed something new to bookend it, Carmen thought of the Wondermints and Foskett.
 
But first, Carmen had to deliver his first song since the birth of his son, Clay, now 16. (He and his second wife, Susan, also have a daughter, Kathryn.)
 
The new song seems to have dropped from the sky on the night of this winter’s first big snowstorm. To hear Carmen tell it, that chilly November night prompted the confluence of emotion and thought in “Brand New Year,†a hypnotic, ravishing tune that starts somberly and ends on a note of renewal.
 
Not only does the song speak to Carmen’s empathy for two women he has come to know over the past several years, it also may help soften the aftershocks of a protracted divorce.
 
“Between having babies upstairs and not being able to play at 2 o’clock in the morning and what had happened to the music business in general, there wasn't a lot of impetus for songwriting,†Carmen said. Nevertheless, he told Legacy’s Smith he’d give it a try.
 
The night the weather knocked out the power and “I had no heat, no Internet, no anything,†so Carmen gravitated to the warmest place in the house, the living room, where he began to read by flashlight. Something about that “atmosphere, that complete vacuum†led him to put down the flashlight and “put my fingers on the piano for the first time in years,†he said. What issued astonished Carmen, a self-styled project writer, whether for an album or a soundtrack. “For the first time in at least 16 or 17 years, this song just kind of fell out,†he said of “Brand New Year.â€
“By the time I finished that night, I had the melody, the verse and the chorus.â€
 
Determined to craft something unmistakably different from “All by Myself†or “Go All the Way,†Carmen found himself writing in 12/8, a rhythm not common to pop music, with a major key and a minor feel, key changes, what he called “very sophisticated chords†– and, to his surprise, a falsetto this natural tenor has craved since “Day One, when all I wanted to do was sound like Brian Wilson in the Raspberries songs.â€
 
The backstory of “Brand New Year†involves a trauma nurse who served in Iraq and Afghanistan Carmen met through Facebook and a local woman who “has had an absolutely hellish year,†he said, refusing to identify either. The nurse is struggling with what he called an antibiotics-resistant illness that has sidelined her for two years.
 
Reflecting on these women and the “four-and-a-half-year nightmare of divorce and what it inflicted on my children†informs “Brand New Year,†Carmen suggested. He thinks the tune strikes the universal note he always seeks, he said – and, in the first line, “drink a toast to all the ghosts we leave behind us,†leverages the notions of renewal and the holiday season. (The tune was released online on Dec. 31.)
 
“It wasn’t cathartic so much as the song happened very quickly,†he said. “It was much easier than most of the things that I’ve ever written.†Part of that involved rediscovering his love for the piano, and part may have involved a “lot of stuff inside me that hadn’t expressed itself,†he said.
 
The bottom line is that the tune conveys “the hope everyone has on New Year’s Eve.â€
 
cwolff@cjn.org
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Great interview and article!  12/8 time?  I haven't thought about music theory since I first started taking keyboard lessons in 1959...Let's see, 1/4 time, a quarter note gets 1 beat and a measure is 4 beats...12/8 time...uh-oh (listening to the intro in my head- counting on both hands)...4 sets of triplets for 8 beats...some pretty nifty writing there, Eric!  I'm glad I only have to enjoy the song! 

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Eric,

 

Great article!!

 

Know it couldn't have been easy, but so glad you thought about getting that stuff inside of you out into the universe.  I feel so appreciative of all the shares you've given recently. 

 

(I must try to use the word "Meatlofian" in a sentence today. :))

 

xoxo

M.E.

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