Miracle On 8th Street: American Music Club’s Everclear at 30

Beloved by rock critics and record store clerks across the land, the fifth AMC LP remains an essential listen

American Music Club Everclear, Alias Records 1991

Originally founded by singer/guitarist Mark Eitzel in 1983, the San Francisco band American Music Club underwent various personnel changes until eventually consolidating a stable line-up consisting of guitarist Mark Pankler (who went under the inexplicable moniker “Vudi”), bassist and multi-instrumentalist Danny Pearson, keyboards, pedal steel, dobro and dulcimer player Bruce Kaplan, and drummer Mike Simms.

It was this particular line-up that recorded Everclear, the band’s fifth and most distinctive album to date. Released in October, 1991, it earned Eitzel an impressive amount of critical kudos, including pronouncement by Rolling Stone as songwriter of the year. The same publication listed it among their top five albums of the year. 

It’s not that the band hadn’t experienced success earlier on. Previous albums like The Restless Stranger, Engine, California and United Kingdom established their indie ethos and a deeply-rooted atmospheric sound. However, Everclear found them further expanding their parameters with a clear mix of deeply textured melodic musings and raucous revelry. That said, the group made it clear they weren’t beholden to a specific musical pretext. As always, Eitzel took center stage, his emotional outreach on songs such as “Rise” and “The Dead Part of You” bringing Bono to mind in the midst of one of his own anthemic outcries. “Royal Cafe” and “Crabwalk” on the other hand, provide the most straight-forward delivery of the entire album, a pair of rambling, rousing rockers that give the record its most accessible points of entry.

 

VIDEO: Awkward 1991 interview with Eitzel and Vudi of American Music Club

Still, as further proven throughout his solo career, Eitzel was, at his core, a crooner and master of melancholia adept at expressing emotion with both passion and purpose. The tellingly-titled “Jesus’ Hands,” the hushed sounds of “Why Won’t You Stay” and the mellow meandering found in “Miracle on 8th Street” find Eitzel delving deep into contemplation and offering emotive rumination on his own darkness and despair.

Eitzel’s evocative ballads convey an exacting sense of longing and loss that find him adrift in his own emotions. Nevertheless, the dense keyboard textures at the core of “The Confidential Agent” and the further depths of despondency hinted at in “Sick of Food” suggests further cause for caution and concern.

For better or for worse, and despite all the accolades it was accorded, Everclear didn’t significantly advance the group’s standing to anything more than an accredited indie stature. They still found themselves playing to limited audiences while accruing a clear cult following. Yet in retrospect, it’s clear that they were operating a distinct plateau, one where evocative emotion and a ready resolve found equal footing. 

 

VIDEO: American Music Club “Rise”

The band would soldier on for another four years until disbanding in 1995. They reformed in 2003 and subsequently released a new studio album Love Songs for Patriots in 2004 and the live A Toast to You later that same year. A final album The Golden Age made its way to the marketplace in 2008 before the band called it quits for the final time in 2010. Eitzel, meanwhile, maintains an active solo career, although a new album is now long overdue.

It remains to be seen whether there will ever be further reincarnation on American Music Club, but if not, Everclear bears testimony to its enduring greatness.

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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