- Eric George, Valley of the Heart
"It feels strange to fit most of my creative output of the pandemic into this 5x5.5" book," wrote Burlington singer-songwriter Eric George in a March Instagram post promoting his new album, Valley of the Heart. Is the prolific folk troubadour doing something unusual by releasing a pandemic album? Probably not. My reviewer's instinct says a deluge of similarly themed songs and records is on the horizon.
But Valley of the Heart is special due to George's focus on the seemingly small and mundane — a meal of bread and butter, a cold cup of coffee, the cover of a paperback Western. These little observations stand in for big feelings.
"Blue Plate Special" gets its title from the low-price diner menu option that originated during the Great Depression. It's an apt reference in the second economic crisis of the 30-year-old musician's lifetime and an appropriate title for this Americana accounting of quarantine blues.
George's musical style is rooted in folk, country and Delta blues. "Never You," however, features the poppiest melody I've heard from the Massachusetts native. The acoustic guitar-driven tune has the feel of Jim Croce's "Operator" reworked as a country crossover song.
"Everybody's Got a Right to Cry" touches on shared experiences of grief and confusion. The message? Let it out, y'all.
Social commentary is in George's wheelhouse, and he gets into it here. "Pretty Things" is an ironically jaunty climate crisis PSA. "I Don't Like Steve" describes a grade A jerk in painfully specific terms: "He's always asking everyone around / What they think about this or that / Then he'll tell you his opinion / Halfway through your sentence / And then says thanks for the chat." I'm willing to bet Steve has never read Rebecca Solnit's priceless essay, "Men Explain Things to Me."
Critiquing toxic masculinity has emerged as a theme across several of George's recent releases. He's addressed it in songs such as "All She's Got" on his 2019 punk album Song of Love and now again in "Looking for a Man," a retro rock number with Sean Preece of pop-punk band Preece on drums.
An Eric George album wouldn't be complete without folk-art-inspired presentation. Like 2017's Not About Nightingales, Valley of the Heart comes with a hand-bound booklet. Original photo collages featuring childhood snapshots of George, as well as images of home and nature, are tucked between pages of lyrics.
On his 10th full-length album, George maintains his strong track record for vision, direction and editing. There's no navel-gazing here, just relevant and poignant expressions of his coronavirus-era reflections and experiences.
Valley of the Heart is available at ericgeorge.bandcamp.com.