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  • Jonathan Widran

TOM EATON, weathering

If you’ve been a fan of new age at any point since the early 90s, chances are that even if you don’t know his name, you’ve heard the sonically adventurous, multi-faceted work of Tom Eaton, a keyboard based multi-instrumentalist who has hundreds of credits for engineering, producing, mixing, mastering and performing.

His official latest count on AllMusic is 728, but that doesn’t include Will Ackerman’s Grammy nominated album Positano Songs. It does, however, include Brothers, his Grammy nominated collaboration with Ackerman and trumpeter Jeff Oster (well known for being part of FLOW). In 2009, 16 years after launching his first commercial studio in Newburyport, MA, Eaton was invited by Ackerman (legendary founder of Windham Hill Records) to join him as engineer and co-producer at Imaginary Road Studios – where they have since worked on dozens of genre albums together. Starting with his Zone Music Reporter win (Best New Artist) for his debut album abedromen in 2016, Eaton has also enjoyed a strong presence as a solo artist in the genre as well.

Listening to his lushly and intricately produced, beautifully meditative and highly vulnerable new album weathering, which artfully and intuitively tracks a powerful journey from existential despair and literal hard times to restoration via nature and the dawning of a fresh day and new love, one wonders how someone of such impact and accomplishment could have ever fallen so low.

Certainly, from the stark piano intro “prelude to the lost years” and the darkly but soothingly ambient 8-minute heartfelt immersion “the lost years” to the similarly ambient but cautiously optimistic (via glimmers of instrumental “light”) "when clouds give way to stars," fans could enjoy this compelling collection as a calming work without any personal anecdotes or emotional context. Likewise, one can connect heart and soul to the breathlessly haunting, atmosphere laden piano ballad “instead I said goodbye” – the collection’s lead single – even without understanding that Eaton was inspired by a line in Jane Siberry’s song “Goodbye” and how it made him think about how he (and by extension, we) we sometimes choose to keep things safe and steady when there are better choices for our lives.

Same for the murky and mournful “the empty page,” where we can feel his (and maybe memories of our) heartbreak and loneliness even without his anecdote about needing to fill a page with notes, words or color. Yet by illuminating his process of inspiration and creation, Eaton reveals himself to be an incredible storyteller unafraid to tell the world that even those who seem successful can go through rough patches that require healing and a reminder of what to be grateful for.

For those interested in the story behind the music, you can read his detailed notes on the journey here: In a nutshell, in 2015, a dream had fallen apart, he was essentially homeless, making records during the day and spending nights creating his solo albums. He spent a few years as a broken man, with music as “the only truth I had access to.” The fact that he credits nature for offering solace, helping dig out of the rut and giving him a new perspective makes perfect sense in light of the fact that he grew up in the woods of New Hampshire, running around on old train track beds and skating on frozen backyard ponds. Dating back to before the American Revolution, the Eaton family got a land grant from the King of England in Coastal Salisbury, MA.

The name “Eaton” means “life on the river,” which not only reflects the centuries old family history but also clearly inspired one of the emotional centerpieces on weathering. The artist found himself “above the mad river” on a hike when the wind suddenly stopped, and all was quiet just above the tree line. He couldn’t hear the rushing water below. The silence took him back to certain memories of needing peace, and the rush of these made him realize it was always there for him. He just didn’t know where to look yet. He chronicles this moment of revelation with the majestic seven-minute reflection “above the mad river,” which fuses a tender, somber piano melody with caressing atmospheres and a touch of accordion on the bridge.

Eaton describes his childhood as similar to the Japanese practice of “forest bathing.” As a boy, he spent hours at home with the streams and the birds, and the wind that rustled the trees around him. He knew all the local trails that wound through those forests of pine, birch, maple and oak trees. Moving away to boarding school, opening his studio in his early 20s and serving the needs of others for so many years took its toll and left him searching for meaning.

Eaton rediscovered this meaning, and by extension his life’s purpose, at the state park on the beach in Salisbury. He started walking there every night at sunset, but one morning, he went there and took a picture of the sunrise. “It was just me and the waves and the sun and it was like being given a gift. The ocean and then the wind, and then the trees slowly changed me. And eventually a single sunrise in 2019 put me right.” He chronicles this moment, and the serendipitous meeting of his future wife Sarah on that very beach in April of that same year, on the aptly titled “the beach, the rain and hope.”

One might expect such exciting breakthrough moments to inspire fast rhythms, dancing piano and swirling synths, but Eaton wisely keeps on the reflective path, humbly grateful for these gifts from the universe, with just enough shards of light to show us he’s pushing through the pain and onto a new and better path. “I still don’t understand how it all happened, but it’s good and I’m grateful for all of it,” he says. Eaton and Sarah got married in the spring of 2021, and in the fall moved to a house and barn they found in the New Hampshire countryside, about five miles from where he grew up. He shares the contentment with this wonderful part of his story on another stunning, sweetly melodic piano and ambience driven piece titled “the world with her in it,” which he says is about “walking next to the person who makes everything fall into place,” adding, for insightful measure, “I had started the practice of creating peaceful ambient spaces in music (which led to my elements albums) and was learning how to be at peace in my piano music as well.”

Which brings us to the title track, another lovely piano meditation caressed by the contrast of dark basslines and the brighter feeling of a chiming vibraphone. The track, like the album, takes us on a ride infused at every turn with darkness and light – the perfect illustration of how things start out, the way life might take us down, and the long road back. Eaton says, “I've been through what so many of us go through... real hope and real despair, and life choices that we gamble on and stick with too long after they've proven themselves to be fatally flawed. Weathering for me has four different meanings. One is very literal ‘getting back into the weather’ (the wind, the sea spray, the rain). Next, my own age that looks back at me in the mirror, and then the idea of weathering the storm, just getting through - keeping the ship intact enough to make it through to some unknown destination. And in that last sense, it's also a victory. It's not just taking on wear, it's making it into the next chapter.

“The fourth meaning,” he adds, “relates to a certain juniper tree that I befriended and started to document in 2020. Watching the time pass around it became a lesson in resilience and in just being one's self, no matter the changes around you. The tree is in Salisbury... in the same state park where that sunrise was, the same park where I met Sarah for the first time, and where we got married.”


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