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Todd Eckart started working with music in Duluth during his high school years, making his debut performance singing Kenny Rodger’s “Lady” during his senior year as the last class to graduate from Morgan Park before they made the switch to Denfeld. From there Eckart went down to Minneapolis in 1985 and started a band with a high school friend.
After 11 years, Eckart returned to the Duluth area and started playing at coffee shops and open mics under the name “Hot Toddy.” In 2007 he moved to Los Angeles where he had the opportunity to play with musicians such as the original guitar player for Chris Isaac, James Wilsey, as well as meet Lucinda Williams and perform at Frank Sinatra’s house. In 2009 he appeared on the Discovery Channel show “Time Warp” as the backing band for swing dancing.
I first met Eckart on one of his visits back from L.A. some 10 years ago. He excelled as a performer but stuck to mostly, if not all, covers. The one original I remember was a comedy song about how he kind of looks like Jim Carrey.
Eckart has since established himself career musician in the area after moving back permanently in 2012. He’s well known for playing shows covering Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, crooners such as Sinatra and his spot-on Chris Isaac tunes. After three decades of playing music and a couple of wins as “Best Musician” from the Reader’s own Best of the Northland survey, it’s fair to say the time is right for Eckart to finally drop an original album.
Eckart will hold his official CD release concert for his debut album “Out of the Blue” 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19 at Clyde Iron in Duluth. It should be noted that the Jim Carrey song did not make the album.
If there’s one thing that shines from Eckart, it’s his appreciation for vintage pop art from the ‘50s into the ‘70s. With “Out of the Blue” he comes out with originals that probably won’t put off any of his fans who have watched him play covers all these years. The album is 11 songs of nostalgia that can be heard now for the first time. Artists like Roy Orbison and perhaps Randy Travis come to mind with the mix of pop, light rock and country.
The opening track is “Lies Don’t Lie,” a tune with a pop-rock feel plus a little country twang. While most of the tracks feature Eckart’s prowess as a vocalist, he brings in some seasoned artists from around the area for the album and the live show: Jimi Cooper, known for his surf guitar riffs with The Fractals, has been a mainstay in Eckart’s band; others include George Ellsworth, Matthew Groom, Kevin Kitchak, Teddy Czaplicki, Veikko Lepisto, Armond Blackwater and Larry Midbon. The lineup definitely works in bringing these songs to life, though it would be concerning if these musicians couldn’t keep up with the mostly four-chord songs that reflect an era gone by.
Songs like “Don’t You Love Me” comes off with a feel of Orbison in the melody line over the upbeat swing dance-worthy arrangements. Tracks such as “Lucky Stars” and “My Sweet Friend” fall into a more laid-back country structure that brings a nostalgic air that one might expect from a singer like Conway Twitty. From the lyrics to what’s happening with the instruments, there’s nothing really too challenging or out there. For those who liked Eckart for recreating timeless classics from decades past, he certainly stays approachable with his originals.
The instrumental track “Italian Village” reminds me a little of the song “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and The Americans, except instead of a horn section and robust vocals, Eckart uses shimmering and smooth surfy guitars. Above all, he keeps things classy.
For years his fans have come to expect a few things from his performances; he’s tasteful, professional and constructs a time warp to the heyday of things like the Grand Ole Opry and the Ed Sullivan Show. Suffice to say he usually sticks to a sound that predates MTV and the generally louder, cruder, more in-your-face music that became much of the ‘80s through today, Chris Isaac, of course, being one of a few exceptions. While “Out of the Blue” isn’t exactly taking anyone by surprise, it’s certainly an album that those yearning for something different and familiar at the same time will relish.