Eric Hutchinson is an international platinum-selling singer, songwriter and seasoned touring artist. He has performed in all 50 states and has shared the stage with acts such as Jason Mraz, Amos Lee, Ingrid Michaelson, O.A.R., and Michael Franti. His single “Rock & Roll” earned him his first gold record in the United States and the song became a #1 hit in several countries.
To see an Eric Hutchinson show is to be fully entertained. Hutchinson and his band, The Believers have toured extensively, building a reputation for a high-energy live show, full of four-part harmonies, incredible musicianship, humility, and humor. A show for any music lover, Eric brings the audience to him, playing his unique songs and telling the funny, moving and one-of-a-kind stories that made him the artist he is today.
For the first time ever, Eric brought his touring band into the recording studio with him and the result is an exciting new album, Modern Happiness. The record finds Eric and the Believers capturing the magic that makes their live shows so memorable, and effortlessly melding Pop, Soul, Reggae, Folk and Americana into a sound that is undeniably Hutchinsonian.
Modern Happiness, Eric Hutchinson’s fifth studio album, is his finest effort yet. The album’s 10 tracks, and an 11th bonus track, display a dramatic departure from a master songwriter’s usual musical forms and lyrical themes, while also expanding on his refined working palette through the many disparate genres that has made his music some of the most engaging of his generation. And while Hutchinson’s soul, pop and rock composing has matured exponentially with each previous release, there is a penetratingly earthy and at times unflinchingly raw confessional aspect to each song’s subject matter, which translates with striking clarity to his vocals.
Additionally, the arrangements on Modern Happiness, as well as Hutchinson’s careful detail as producer – another talent he has honed over the last few years – reveal a new communicative instrumental interaction through the inspiring contributions of his touring band, The Believers; his longtime instrumental collaborator, Elliott Blaufuss (Guitars, Keys & Vocals), the rhythm section of Ian Allison (Bass & Vocals) and Bryan Taylor (Drums, Percussion & Vocals), and specifically for this album, the alluring harmonies of Jessie Payo.
This combination of a deeper autobiographical expression, a broader musical experimentation, and a collaborative creative effort gives Modern Happiness an expressive pathos and dynamic musical direction that leads Hutchinson down a new path of infinite creative possibilities.
Firstly, although Hutchinson has infused personal experiences into his songs – “Outside Villanova," “Watching You Watch Him," “Shine on Me," “Dear Me,” “Anyone Who Knows Me” and “Same Old Thing” – he could not necessarily be considered a confessional songwriter. Of course pieces of an artist will always appear in his work, but as far as I can tell Hutchinson has never sought to express an inner monologue as effectively as he has on Modern Happiness. The title of the album alone speaks to his place in the age of better living through chemistry; a generation promised happiness above all else with no roadmap in which to find that happiness in a modern world devoid of personal connection, where contentment is mostly sold as consumerism, social media, and the calculating nature of accruing popularity through the number of “likes” and “followers” and “hits” in a cold landscape of cyberspace.
This, of course, runs antithetical to the music we hear on Modern Happiness, as mentioned, a more band-orientated album reflecting a camaraderie and interplay that has rarely been as important to Hutchinson as serving the song. This new focus on collaboration reaches beyond merely the songwriting, as Hutchinson has co-written before. It is the overall presentation of the music that resonates here. The arrangements and performances, and perhaps most effectively the choice of musical foundation – styles as diverse as ragtime, ska, doo-wop, blues, reggae, and of course Hutchinson’s wheelhouse in white soul and tender ballads are unfurled as new canvases in which his stories are told – that run counter to the darker themes of isolation, disease, abuse, hypocrisy and depression.
But Modern Happiness truly impresses with Hutchinson’s penchant for pleasing melody and syrupy-sweet vocals that let the “medicine” go down quite nicely. You cannot help but hum along or sing out loud with these fiercely in-depth self-expressions. It is a playful subtext to the interiors of the song cycle Hutchinson sets up from the very beginning with “Miracle Worker”; on the surface a relatable mes en scene – taking us step-by-step through a magical night of spirits, flirtation and nocturnal beachcombing in the narrator’s search for “a miracle."
However, this surface plot is too simple. “Miracle Worker” is the album’s opening statement, a thesis that preludes the album’s central theme; the fragile spectrum between reality and fantasy. It is within these parameters in which an artist often creates, but it is also a fine line walked by anyone. What is real? That is what Eric Hutchinson will ask in every song of Modern Happiness; social interaction, sexual attraction, faith, loneliness, sympathy, contrition, happiness – how can we define it or should we define it? (James Campion 2018)