Anderson East's debut LP, Flowers of the Broken Hearted, was a success before it was even released. East, who has only released two EPs previously, decided to crowd-fund his debut double-album through PledgeMusic, providing fans with the opportunity to donate funds toward the recording costs of the album. It was a bold maneuver for an artist just starting his career, even in an atmosphere in which sites like PledgeMusic, Kickstarter, and IndieGoGo have served as viable alternatives for the money of major record labels. But East's fans heard something special in those earlier releases, and actually exceeded his targeted funding goal.
East didn't intend to debut with a double LP, a format normally reserved for mid-career concept albums. Returning from sessions in Los Angeles with producer Chris Seefriend, East thought he had his new album all wrapped up. It wasn't until he began writing and recording new tracks in his Nashville home-studio that the second half of Flowers took shape. Both records tackled the same subject matter, albeit from two stylistically different angles, and it soon became apparent that they were two sides of the same whole. Disc One, infused with upbeat soul and Americana, is the more radio-friendly of the two. In an ironic twist, the Alabama native who went to college in Tennessee left the South to record a Nashville-sounding record in LA. "Flowers of the Broken Hearted" is full of funky guitar, keyboards, and soulful female backing vocals, with East sounding like a more upbeat Ray LaMontagne. The wistful "Memento" is a vision of what country radio could sound like if it wasn't so rigidly dedicated to shallow pop songs. And "Better," as the brutally honest final parting shot of a failed relationship, absolutely deserves to be a big mainstream hit. Some inspired TV producer needs to discover this song and put it in a commercial; the rest will be history.
Things get much more somber toward the end of Disc One. East implores the woman in "English Major" to "put down your fables" and live some real stories together. Those plans seem to have gone awry, though, as the breakup in "Tennessee Women" is so bitter that it finds East disavowing not just the woman who did him wrong, but the entire state in which it happened. It's not all gloom, though, as Disc One ends with the touching ballad "My Love For Thee."
Flowers of the Broken Hearted takes a darker turn on its second side. There's a raw, unmistakable beauty to the songs on Disc Two, as if returning home led to the opening of old wounds. Anderson East will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Ryan Adams, especially on this side of Flowers. Both East and Adams are fantastic vocalists who know just how to pull on the heartstrings. The subject in "New Life/New York" attempts to get away from the troubles of her past and start anew, albeit without him: "To find yourself, darlin' / You gotta lose me." The woman in "Fire Song" finds escape in the burning of her home. "Ghost," which begins with East singing barely above a whisper, tackles the pain of bereavement and the difficulty in letting go ("You're sleeping with a ghost beside you..."). And the atmosphere of "Sewing Machine" is almost menacingly cynical as East sings lines like, "No, no, no, no, it's never better having had and having lost," inverting the old adage that suggests quite the opposite.
Flowers of the Broken Hearted releases tomorrow. A sonically diverse album that explores universal themes of love and loss, it is a record than should stand among the best of the year.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Anderson East, in which we discuss the new album, Tennessee women, and the state of country music. In my completely unbiased opinion, it's pretty badass.