Eric Underwood and Eladia
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 14, 2002) – Is the world ready for austere, classical-drenched chamber-folk? That’s what Berkshire duo Eric Underwood and Eladia are banking on with their new recording, Down from the Treehouse, which they played live in its entirety on Wednesday night in a CD release concert at Club Helsinki.

Previously known for fronting his eponymous folk-rock band, singer-songwriter Underwood has changed course, ditching the band and teaming up with the lovely Eladia Haiman, whose versatile cello and harmony vocals are the perfect foil for Underwood’s moody, minor-key melodies.

Dressed in formal wear befitting the occasion and the music’s serious aspect, Underwood and Eladia – she goes by her first name professionally – performed passionate versions of Underwood’s delicate, gossamer tunes. Underwood accompanied himself on guitar on melodies that occasionally modulated from minor to major and back, and some stuck to a bimodal strategy, lending them a gauzy, faux-Middle Eastern feel.

Many of the songs seemed to take place on a non-earthly plane, literally in trees or treehouses, floating above the ground, or in the sky among the stars. Figuratively, the songs seemed to operate on a spiritual plane; words like angels, falling, sacrifice, jubilee, blood, cancer, and terminal jumped out at a listener over the course of the evening. Their collective impact is of a dream, one that cycles from birth to death and whatever lies beyond.

The melody of “Home” faintly echoed “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” by Electric Light Orchestra, one of the few pop groups ever to use cello in a significant way. “Marianne” hinted at both early-1970s English folk-rock and the progressive classical-rock experiments of the Moody Blues (one was just waiting for the segue into “Tuesday Afternoon” that never happened).

“Carousel” was one of several songs, like “Jericho,” that opened with an Arabic-styled cello riff, the latter song winding up in a Led Zeppelin-like frenzy of emotion. “Enter You” had the folk delicacy of “Tea for the Tillerman”-era Cat Stevens, while “Stargazing” – which featured guest guitarist Bruce Knowlton – combined the sweet harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash with the dark chord progression of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Ultimately, though, there was really no referent in pop that could satisfactorily capture the unique sound that Underwood and Eladia have cooked up for this conceptual batch of music. What they may have struck on instead is that ever-elusive fusion of art and folk music, in this case, combining the haunting, romantic sound of the cello, tinged with Eastern exoticism, and Underwood’s sincere, spiritually yearning lyrics and vocals.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 15, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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