We try again. When we love and lose—or hurt, or err, or break—we try again. Anderson East’s Encore cycles through stories about what happens when we do, when we believe giving up’s way harder than trying.
King for a Day sounds like Chris and Morgane Stapleton were listening to Aretha's version of Son of a Preacher Man while co-writing it. It eases in with mutual trepidation (“Honey, I’m afraid, and I know you are too”) that Anderson tries to compartmentalize as the past (“We’ve both been through what we’ve both been through”).
Nothing changes other than the future, of course—certainly not the past. Having a past is no reason to blink and miss what’s in front of them, to not get what they can while the getting is good (“There’s no reason not to cross that line”). His gamble, the result of that understanding—“I’d rather be king for a day than a fool forever”—is one he’s especially willing to lose (“Even if your heart can’t look my way”). And it’s one the album comes back to a few times.
Permanence even “when the beauty is gone and time goes by too fast.” This Too Shall Last celebrates the endurance of renewed effort, the real work it takes to stay together because “the pieces never fit quite naturally.” Its standout is the intimacy of “The door is always open—never mentioned and never spoken—and only we know where we like to hide the keys.” It’s the power of anyway, of making a way out of no way.
Thematically, House Is a Building is a lot like Luther's A House Is Not a Home. It’s my-heart-is-anywhere-you-are type stuff. But it adds a question: Everything falls apart, so what of us when the walls come down? Its answer is being her constant, an option, even if not always a fit.
That comfort is accessible; it’s love you can actually have. It’s also the only thing worth remembering (“I remember when you’re with me; I forget it when you’re not”). The rest will scar. So, she can always come back home (“If you got a heartbeat, you know you got me”), no matter where she’s been—an idea that’s another expression of being especially willing to be the one who loses the gamble his heart’s made.
The top of the album is about the promise of love. Its middle is stories about chasing it. The first in this series is a cover of Ted Hawkins’s Sorry You’re Sick: a punchy-brass, Joe Bonamassa-bluesy vow to be the cure for what ails her. It’s followed by the sultry If You Keep Leaving Me, that has Anderson like a moth to a flame, burned by desire.
Girlfriend’s about the same attraction and burn. Its vibe and narrative remind me of John Legend’s Alright (Anderson’s “Brother, we might have a problem” vs. John’s “Better tell him he don’t want it with me”). It’s also the first time he breaks the pattern of talking directly to the one he wants.
Surrender’s “I know I know better but I don’t why” and “Willing victim of wild desire” tie it to the other tracks in this section. And “It’s a game of hearts I’m willing to lose” is clever wordplay that restates the gamble Anderson makes in King for a Day.
Ed Sheeran’s affectations (he wrote it) are all over All on My Mind, a song about the things one imagines for two. It fetishizes her rule-breaking individuality (“You could find my woman dancing in bare feet on a couch in a ballroom dress”), but not only hers; he’d “wear 501s to bed.” That balance is part of why what’s professed (“I’ll be the ground under your feet”) and confessed (“I was wrong; I see it now”) in Without You is so believable.
Anderson’s cover of Willie Nelson’s Somebody Pick Up My Pieces is fantastic. It’s a good follow to Without You, because we’re in the aftermath of loss—the kind of loss the mistake in Without You may have sparked.
“I surrender my crown” ties Somebody to two tracks: Surrender and King for a Day. It’s offered as a lesson to those of us who, too, might gamble. And something about it—maybe that its lesson makes me think of parables—reminds me of the Humpty Dumpty story. After a great fall, he can’t be put back together again by all the king’s horses and men?
Cabinet Door is wonderful. Throughout the record, there’s been use of a hollowing affect, but it’s particularly moving here, amplifying the loneliness. It’s an in memoriam for everything a couple built over 52 years. It’s about the life we remember about the love we’ve lost. The pieces she left behind “time can’t erase,” but he also can’t make them fit without her. And that’s not just about the gendered things (“The biscuits ain’t right”), but the moments they made better together (holding hands while watching the Braves games).
The song’s also another example of this record tying itself together. The threads are in the themes of the pieces not fitting and the sense that he feels like being king for the days he had with her will last him forever.
January 12, 2018
Aaron Raitiere · Adam Hood · Anderson East · Chris Stapleton · Jillia Jackson · Morgan Stapleton · Natalie Hemby · Steve McEwan · Ted Hawkins · Tim Bergling · Willie Nelson