The Novelists, with a focus on the songwriting of Megan Slankard and Eric H. Andersen

For a long time, I have done most of my writing about music as comments on other people’s posts on Facebook and ReverbNation and SoundCloud and the like. When I have posted on my own timeline or on my music page timeline, most of my posts have been to promote the shows of the extraordinary musicians I’ve come to know in the Bay Area. Sometimes, I promote shows on my timeline or write short reviews of performances and recordings as comments on posts from people I have not yet met, simply because I have been moved or impressed by something I have heard or seen.

I want to write about the musicians and music I am hearing that I feel are the very best. This aggregation, as it appears over time, will by no means be exhaustive; there are other musicians and pieces that I like very much. What comes to mind for me today is The Novelists.

I have just become a member of The Novelists’ Book Club (http://thenovelists.com) and heard for the first time the new songs that the group has co-written. I had extremely high hopes for this collaboration, and, impossibly, my best hopes have been exceeded. The first song they posted was co-written by Megan Slankard and Eric H. Andersen, and if either of them had asked me for my opinion of what they should do next in songwriting, I would have recommended that they co-write because their writing styles complement each other so well. And here they are, with a song called “I’m In No Pain,” and it is everything I would have hoped their collaboration would be, and much more. I will wait until their next CD is released before I consider reviewing this song in detail.

From my personal point of view, Megan Slankard (http://www.meganslankard.com) is currently America’s best songwriter. I know of no one who can write anywhere near as incisively as she can, about as wide a range of subjects, with as much of what I call psychological veracity (meaning communicating the way humans actually think and feel) as Megan has done, especially on her momentous album “A Token of the Wreckage.” “Token” is a collection of connected songs, and though it isn’t a rock opera, it functions as a song cycle about a particular set of subjects, and as such, I think it rivals (and I actually believe, exceeds, at least at the level of the heart) such works as The Who’s “Tommy” or “Quadraphenia.” I call it singer-songwriter/pop fusion, because the incredibly deep, creative and carefully-crafted songs on that CD are all also pop masterpieces musically, with melody and chordal hooks aplenty. No matter how many times I listen to the songs on “Token,” there is enough in it to keep me delving, there is that much substance to the work.

If you want to know about Eric Andersen, I call your attention to his song “Blue Green,” which appears on his own CD (“Close to Home,” http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ericandersen12) as well as The Novelists’ most recent release, “Backstory” (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thenovelists.) It is an obvious national hit, so finely crafted, so stripped down, so exquisite and gemlike. Every line is its own hook, both musically and lyrically. The song got some attention, as did The Novelists’ CD, in year-end “ten best” lists, but I predict a much bigger future for Eric and his songs. He is obviously musically knowledgeable as well as gifted, as the “making of” video for “I’m In No Pain” shows him conducting the string section for the recording of the song, and I note that he and Joel Ackerson are credited with the string arrangement, and that arrangement is stunning.

The other members of The Novelists, Joel Ackerson and Zachary Teran, are also remarkable songwriters and I will talk about them in the future. It is uncanny that these four people met and formed a band. It is apparently not enough that they write at the exalted level at which they write; they are all expert musicians on their instruments, they all have superior singing voices that just happen to blend perfectly, they play the right instruments to be a band rather than just four singer/songwriters, and they all work extremely hard at their craft.I will write more about them when their next CD is completed.

I intend to do all I can to help along what I think is inevitable: This group is going to be important nationally, because they are so important musically and so wildly impressive. I am rooting so hard for the substance of what they do to catch on with the public at large, because it would restore my faith in the audience. I know younger people are saying to me and others that they crave more complexity in the lyrics and the music of what they listen to, and I am hoping that The Novelists are at the forefront of meeting that craving.

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