There is a soulful burr in Cliff Eberhardt’s voice — a universally recognized wound salved by the satisfaction of survival — that is his most enduring virtue. It’s not blue-eyed soul, like Darryl Hall or Joss Stone; Eberhardt isn’t invoking r&b mannerisms. It’s a thick, slightly hoarse testimonial that, if you ignore the lyrics, usually gravitates from a plea to a howl.
“I Want to Take You Home,” from the new record Eberhardt will be showcasing Sunday at the Cedar Cultural Center, “500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions,” is a good example. The words make it a love-struck paean, and the accordion and mandolin that join Eberhardt’s guitar over the rhythm section could evoke romantic sidewalk cafés. But the doe-eyed, if not downright doleful, feel of Eberhardt’s vocal transforms the song into a beautiful lament.
The rest of the material on “500 Miles” likewise makes good use of Eberhardt’s vocally wistful bittersweetness. It was recorded at the Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas — produced by a guy named Billy Crockett, no less — and the sparse, flat plains ambiance of the terrain infiltrates the arrangements. The lazy, upward curve of the notes from the resonator guitar and lap steel of Colin Brooks is the ideal foil for the defense of simple pleasures on “Easy Street.” And the steady upward churn in intensity on “Break a Train,” again allows Eberhardt to buck the emotional archetype, turning desolate heartbreak into a vibrantly sorrowful anthem.
The new album is purposefully bracketed by a pair of talismanic tunes. The opener is the title track, with Eberhardt’s acoustic and slide guitar the lone accompaniment to his molasses-slow phrasing, giving full measure to every yard of the “500 Miles.” The closer reprises Eberhardt’s first “hit,” originally recorded nearly twenty years ago with his friend and mentor, Richie Havens. Entitled “The Long Road,” it is the perfect vehicle for an updated context, a poignant look back, and Eberhardt milks it well, escalating the fervor of the chorus each time it arises: “I can hear your voice in the wind/Are you calling to me down the long road?/I have followed my dream/And I will live my whole life/Down the long road.”
Cliff Eberhardt at the Cedar Cultural Center, Sunday, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m., tickets $18 in advance, $20 day of show.