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  • Jonathan Widran

ERIC ESSIX, Eric Essix

An extraordinarily diverse guitarist, Eric Essix may be the only recording artist in history to wait 19 albums (since 1988) before releasing a self-titled collection. If that means listeners are getting the "real" artist after a quarter century, it's an exciting Southern rock-, jazz-, and blues-inflected one. His crisp, crackling melodic lines on the thoughtful ballad "Thoughts of Forever" and the playful light funk-blues "New Focus" certainly put him on par as a player with his more heralded contemporaries like Chuck Loeb and legends like George Benson. But Essix was indie before indie was the norm, carving out a busy and impressive career with breakthroughs and masterworks here and there, without ever reaching the household name status he deserves.

One of the issues is that while being a top-notch instrumentalist and composer finds him categorized as a "jazz guitarist," he's never seen himself as a master of that form. Not that this makes a difference when he blues-rocks as steadily as he does on the smoldering midtempo ballad "Gravitate." Or when he's being wistfully exotic with the acoustic, as on the supremely hypnotic, laid-back "L'Marie," which features wordless vocals by Charmeretta Hayes Timothy. The key to the success he has achieved is that, as with this solid ten-track set, he's always giving his fans the real deal. The guitarist has often invited fans into his story, most prominently on previous works like Southbound, Somewhere in Alabama, and Birmingham. It's a journey to the heart that continues on one of his most engaging and infectious works yet.

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