“Oh Lord! Please don't let me be misunderstood,” Eric Burdon pleaded in 1964 on his Animal Tracks album. But despite his pleadings, Burdon‘s career had nearly disappeared until during a speech at SXSW last year, Bruce Springsteen credited that song as being the inspiration for Badlands., then helped Burdon resurrect his career by bringing him onstage with the E Street band later that night to perform “We Gotta Get Outta This Place.”
Like many of his Brit compatriots, Burdon took inspiration from American black blues musicians. Fronting the Animals stark blues rock (“House of the Rising Sun, ..Misunderstood”) and War’s funky psychedelic soul (“Spill The Wine,”) Burdon’s gruff, gritty vocals graced fifty albums to date.
But nothing since his War days has really stood out, and for decades he’s been mentioned mostly for his early accomplishments.
‘Til Your River Runs Dry should change all that. Not that it contains any groundbreaking content, but it’s just a good solid performance from a guy who deserves to be remembered for more than his hits in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“Water” is supposed to be the breakout single, but it seems a bit overblown, an attempt at a ‘60s era protest song that’s a bit too preachy and overly dramatic, like the spoken word works of William Shatner.
Other than that, it’s a very listenable record. “Devil and Jesus” has a funky hoodoo vibe with Burdon singing better than he has in decades. The original composition borrows from gospel, soul, and blues for a funky morality lesson. “Wait” sounds like Marty Robbins channeling Leonard Cohen, backed by dusty streets of Laredo guitar. “Old Habits Die Hard” is a bad ass’s survival boast worthy of Joe Walsh in composition and tone.
Burdon includes two tributes to Bo Diddley. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust/if the women don’t getcha/Bo Diddley must,” Burdon chants at the start of “Bo Diddley Special,” paying homage to what he dubs “that polongo beat,” Diddley’s signature shave and a haircut backbeat that Burdon says came roaring through his life. “He had a hand like a plate of fish and chips,” Burdon declaims with one of the best mixed metaphors in rock to date. His take on Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” crawls along on its belly like a King snake, deadly and vicious, with Burdon roaring exuberantly in all his phlegmy glory.
Burdon wrote or co-wrote 10 of the12 tunes here, and its impressive work. And with the help of Jon Cleary as collaborator and organist on “River Is Rising,” Burdon even manages to capture the hoodoo vibe of New Orleans with a Dr. John night-tripper era feel.
Eric Burdon is back, bigger and better than ever. It’s about time- for him and for us.
By Grant Britt