Upon the Ecliptic marks a dramatic step away from the polished piano-blues-rock that Denton musician Andrew Tinker distilled onto his debut record in 2009, It Takes the World.
Upon the Ecliptic will be released on Friday, and Tinker will celebrate with a local release show.
The artist said it took four years to make his second record.
“The band itself was pretty well known for live stuff, but we couldn’t, I guess, get that on tape. It didn’t really seem to translate,” Tinker said. “It didn’t have the same vibe. So Upon the Ecliptic really just abandoned that vibe.”
Before and after the debut record, Tinker’s band had a healthy following that craved the intensity of its live show. Tinker would put his piano through the wringer, and the band kept up with Kelyn Crapp burning it up on guitar, Julia Adamy on bass and George Tinker on drums. Some performances would end with a wrung-out Andrew Tinker face-down on the floor after a rowdy round of “Working Man’s Blues.”
Tinker said the time between his first and second records was busy and productive, but ultimately, the time didn’t yield a recording the group wanted to release. Tinker also recorded other bands at his Big Acre Sound Studio, the barn-like space at his folks’ Copper Canyon home. Tinker renovated the storage building so that he could record his own music there and hire it out as a studio to area bands and artists. He also wrote a song, “A Wandering No More,” for the film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints when a friend hit him up. The producer was once a member of the Polyphonic Spree with Tinker.
The band started projects, but didn’t finish them.
“The fact is that my band was kind of still solidifying itself as so many of us finished at North Texas, and by the time I feel like the lineup crystallized, we’d tried to record some stuff,” Tinker said. “I do have an archive of an entire EP that we got into the mixing stage and kind of collectively look back at it and was like, ‘This doesn’t really feel like where we’re at.’”
As material was written, recorded and worked over, the band lineup became Tinker, Jacob Smith and drummer Jeff Randall. Then Randall announced he was going to move to Nashville.
“And before he left it was like, if we’re going to record something, it’s now or never,” Tinker said. “And so we recorded a bunch of tracks, and I parsed a whole bunch of stuff that became Upon the Ecliptic.”
It Takes the World serves up carefully crafted pop — with the anthemic title track shining a hopeful light and “B Sweet,” an R&B experiment that shows Tinker’s technical assuredness (he did leave University of North Texas College of Music with a degree in music theory) and his talent for a hook.
Upon the Ecliptic betrays Tinker’s quirk for curating styles, then using them with what sounds like native ease. Tinker is a fluent musician and an adventurer. The 12-bar blues of It Takes the World gets upgraded to folk; Ecliptic is grittier, a messier record than its predecessor.
“I think there is a definite theme to the album,” Tinker said. “There is some seasonal imagery, and I think that that’s where I really felt like the bulk of the material was formed, in the transience of everything.
“Everything’s moving. Everything’s changing and that’s where I was in my life. Seeing my friends get married, and have babies, and move and pursue careers, and it’s like I felt kind of like the tree whose leaves are falling off. … And that falling-away process, for me, is what made me feel new — made me feel like there was something left to do.”
The “ecliptic” in the title is a reference to the orbital path of planets. The tilt of the Earth — what Tinker calls the planet’s “noncompliance” — causes seasonal change.
Tinker found his metaphor and wrote around it. “Feel It in Motion” is broad enough to be about the cycles of relationships and the cycles of the seasons — falling light and diminishing shadows. “No Home,” with its piano-rock intro and painterly lyrics, is a little Elton John, a little Michael W. Smith. “All to Dust” sits in the middle of the record, a reminder that all things must come to an end and this too shall pass.
With It Takes the World in his rearview, Tinker started trying to write and record songs in ways he hadn’t before. In “Must Have Been in Love,” Tinker lets the drums take a prominent place, tribal thrumming with tight harmonies and repeats cresting before settling quietly at the end.
Folk purists might not appreciate “No Home,” which is a more overt nod to gospel-contemporary Christian music. It has some flourishes that fans of musical theater would appreciate; Tinker doesn’t apologize for being a fan of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell. Tinker sings refrains of “yes, Lord” on the bridge, and invokes the improvisational feeling of worship. “All to Dust” drops the drums.
“I wanted it to have a full feel,” he said. “I wanted that sweeping gesture, you know? I wanted to try big, unique combinations.”
Tinker said he wasn’t bashful about singing and playing from a vulnerable point of view. While relationships ran along their natural course — those marriages, births and relocations putting new people into his life while putting others into the distance — he couldn’t write about anything else.
And he doesn’t cloak his religious yearnings, either. And with Tinker, religious yearnings accept the reality of the natural world and the mysteries of love.
“To me, it is not a theological record,” he said. “It’s a personal account of how I deal with people and how I deal with the divine. And how they deal with me.”
Tinker said the four years nudged him to write what he knows.
“I couldn’t make a record to show my band that we could make a record. I couldn’t make a record for the fans, because we weren’t playing that much,” he said. “So then who am I going to make a record for? I’m going to make a record that is just as close as I can get to describing my own condition and hope that that resonates with other people — that the honesty will at least resonate with other people.”
Tinker said he might be putting his scarred, beat-up piano away for a while. It’s been all over North Texas. It’s been on stage at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, and it’s been on the hard floor of Banter Bistro.
“Making this record was more like, ‘Let’s make this album larger than life,’” he said. “That’s why live, I’ve just been playing with my acoustic guitar. I know that might sound contradictory, but playing the songs with just acoustic guitar really puts the songs out there in front of people. That’s what I did at South By Southwest.”
Tinker performed at an unofficial showcase hosted by Hand Drawn Records during the huge Austin music and film festival.
Tinker said he feels like he’s starting over, because he hadn’t released new music since 2009. And as much as he insists that he is “totally done” with It Takes the World, he concedes that Upon the Ecliptic is still a cousin of his debut album.
“I definitely agree that it is different, and maybe evolved, but the funny thing about it to me is that I feel like the evolution came full circle,” he said. “It has some of the first songs that I ever wrote, when I was a teenager, and then some that were written in the recording process and never even played live before the record was made. It was like, ‘Wow, I’ve had some of these themes going since I was 18 years old.’ And now I just need to finish them and put them on tape.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRACK BY TRACK
ANDREW TINKER, “UPON THE ECLIPTIC”
“Feel It in Motion” — The album begins with this tune, an easy midtempo song reminiscent of Bruce Hornsby & the Range. Folksy guitar and keys — both of which are Tinker’s strong suit — ease you into a record that has a slow-rock sensibility and the kind of soulfulness that you get with Lyle Lovett or Bob Dylan.
“I’ll Come Around” — A moody intro worthy of composers like Jonsi grows into a confession. “Don’t feel much like singing now/I’ll come around/Baby, I won’t let you down/I’ll come around.” The final line — “I cannot fit my piano in this suitcase” trails off into a ornamental brush of keys. It’s the sort of song that would play during the end credits of a drama. Tinker is the music director at the Center for Spiritual Living in Dallas, and has a clear understanding of how to make music underscore experience. Tinker tucked a reprise of the song — accompanying himself on banjo — on the CD as a bonus track.
“All to Dust” — The standout track of the album wisely uses the sad sound of Appalachian folk songs and backs it with accordion, harp, harmonica, acoustic guitar, mandolin and classical guitar. Lyrically, Tinker leans on biblical language. “For does the rain even upon them fall, the wicked and the righteous one the same/Who say your word but cannot say your name, who hear the same but who do not hear the call.” The vocal line — Tinker’s chorally trained tenor — mimics the simple, sustained notes of liturgical chants. With the instrumentation, though, the effect is a gut-level thing instead of cathedral perfect.