Songs rise up out of the depths of Eric Andersen’s heart, embracing us with tendrils of love, searing us with the flames of his anger over injustice, and sailing into our souls on the cascading chords of his guitar. We dwell with him in his songs as he regales us with stories of regret, loss, love, and the ragged ambiguities of life. The performances on the 3 CDs of Woodstock Under the Stars, recorded between 1991 and 2011, showcase the enduring power of Andersen’s poetry and the stunning clarity of his vision as a songwriter, musician, and songwriter. With the exception of three previously released songs and the briefly available (by subscription only) as streams, the performances on this compilation were never released to the public. The first thirteen tracks on disc one were recorded at several locations in Woodstock including Woodstock Guild’s Kleinert/James Art Center, Colony Café, and Nevessa Production Woodstock, while tracks 14 and 15 were recorded the Molde International Jazz Festival in Norway and feature Rick Danko and Jonas Fjeld. Discs two and three recorded live at Nevessa Production Woodstock and webcast on June 8, 2011.
Disc one opens the gale wind force of “Rain Falls on Amsterdam,” a minor chord anthem that builds sonically layer by layer, swelling with rage over the rise of fascism. The forces of hatred fall hard as the rain, drenching those who follow them in a deluge of fear and loathing of anyone unlike them. The rage and the warning of the opening track dissolve into the waters of the enchanting beauty of “Sudden Love,” which opens with Andersen’s harmonica intertwining with his guitar lines; his down strums at the end of each verse evoke the singer’s deep turn of emotion. The airy “Down at the Cantina” wafts gently on happy Traum’s guitar and Garth Hudson’s accordion, drifting into spacious sonic atmospheres. “Blue River” opens with a gospel piano, with Danko’s and Andersen’s vocals spiraling around each other as the song floats far above this world with its flowing splendor.
Disc two opens with “Rain Falls Down in Amsterdam,” but it slides into the gently evocative “Dance of Love and Death,” whose tempo escalates with Traum’s and Andersen’s forceful down strums and John Sebastian’s piercing harmonica. Joe Flood’s yearning violin lines weave around and under the guitars mimicking the tender but awe-ful dance of the song’s title. The haunting “Eyes of the Immigrant” bores a hole into our hearts and souls; this song should be played whenever any political groups gather to exclude immigrants, for Andersen forces listeners stare straight into the humanity of others simply seeking to find a place for their souls and world in which to fulfill their dreams. Happy Traum delivers a bluesy version of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” which floats along cascading guitars.
Disc three opens up with the lively handclapping and hoedown rounder “Before Everything Changed,” before sliding into the swaying mandolin strums of the blues tune “Niagara.” “Don’t It Make You Wanna Sing the Blues” opens with gospel piano that washes over us, while the version of “Blue River” on this disc rides along Sebastian’s lonesome, Stephen Foster-like harmonica tones and Andersen’s flowing piano cleanses us. Disc three closes with a moving version of Andersen’s signature song “Thirsty Boots,” made even more poignant by Inge Andersen’s harmony vocals and Sebastian’s harmonica.
Woodstock Under the Stars
reveals the clarity and depth of Andersen’s musical vision. It’s a chance to celebrate the quiet beauty of his songwriting and music, and it testifies to the power of his music to continue to transform us.