Divorce, bankruptcy and plain old bad luck have marked much of the last decade for country/blues guitar slinger Eric Heatherly. Eric, who scored a Top 10 hit in 2000 with his debut single, a cover of the Statler Brothers‘ “Flowers On The Wall,” endured a long list of hardships ranging from splitting with labels to splitting with business partners. Supporting himself by crafting custom guitar straps and working various odd jobs, Eric bartered for a production budget to complete a new project as tough as he is himself.
The Goats of Kudzu, named for the animals and flowers populating the area near Eric’s hometown of Chattanooga, is a stormy swamp-blues record bearing the grit of hard days. I ain’t no one crop farmer/I’m a jack of all trades, he proclaims defiantly on the opener, “Whittle.” And he is indeed. Aside from a select few cuts featuring additional performers, Eric is a one-man band onKudzu as he plays all instruments on the 15-song project where arrangements consist mostly of a small drum kit, backwoods slide guitar, harmonica and vocals.
With a voice influenced equally by Johnny Cash (the peace-seeking “Traveller’s Tree”) and Tony Joe White (“Fried Up”), Eric’s raw performances are intense. Most songs feature distorted vocals and a gritty ambiance. The haunting, old school jazz-flared “Torturous” and rockabilly “Somethin’ Goin’ On” blend both fuzzy and clean vocals to great effect while the latter’s pristine chorus relishes in an infectious hook. Vulnerable emotion is inescapable onKudzu, where the heartbreaking standout “Guaranteed Tears” beats to a gravedigger’s shovel and the menacing “One O’ You” fills the air with desperation.
Eric produced Kudzu himself and the result is a highly cathartic project. “Tobacco Sunburst” erupts from a calm reverb-washed ballad into an abrasive onslaught while standing vulnerable in front of his ex-wife. I never felt like this before, he sings with a lost longing while remembering the past. And speaking of exes, “Franklin Courthouse Blues” recounts his actual divorce with a poet’s eye for detail, like the fact he was wearing a borrowed suit. She never even once looked my way, but I haunted her like a ghost, he sings before a melody sounding like a depressed version of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” later plays.
Eric’s guitar work, oftentimes like vintage rockabilly setting the soundtrack to a raging inferno, is exceptional throughout the album. “How We Won The War” is stinging Southern rock while “Soul Butter” could have been written by Asheville guitar hero Warren Haynes. The Chet Atkins groove of “The Potter’s Right” is full of tender melodies and on “God’s Hotel,” Eric’s understated fills show he knows how not to overplay.
The Goats of Kudzu, which is available now, is an emotional outpouring where the closest thing to radio friendly is the small town tune, “Porch People.” However, this is a project that burns with passion from a man who’s experienced the highs as well as the lows. And for all the bruised lines along the way, the inspiring instrumental cover of “Amazing Grace” shows that there may be light at the end of the tunnel after all.