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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blowtorch by Himself

Milwaukee songwriter releases two solo albums

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Spend enough time on the streets of Milwaukee's East Side and you'll surely encounter Eric Blowtorch, a rail-thin guy in a hipster-dude hat, lugging an armful of LPs or playing guitar on the corner. Step inside a coffeehouse and you may find him in animated discussion over the fine points of American music history or—depending on the coffeehouse—performing songs from a makeshift stage.

Blowtorch emerged on the Milwaukee alternative scene in the early '80s with bands influenced by reggae and ska as well as rock and soul. Time has made him no less prolific or committed to adding his notes to the music that inspired him. 2012 was barely three months old before Blowtorch released two albums, the CD The Promise of Power on his long-running Bopaganda imprint and an old-school vinyl LP, Eric Blowtorch Plays Himself, released by Portland's Simmerdown Productions.

While both are essentially one-man shows, Eric Blowtorch Plays Himself represents a decade's worth of labor in the recording studio in between other projects while The Promise of Power was abruptly recorded in his bedroom. The LP was ready to go late last year when Blowtorch was challenged by a remark on Facebook: "Make November a solo album month."

"And I made it," he says cheerfully. "Just me and my guitar, made listenable with minimal production. It was quick and low overhead." As a result, The Promise of Power is as unprocessed as a demo dashed off in a hurry while Plays Himself is a more considered one-man band effort with Blowtorch on all instruments as he covers the territory of rock, jazz and beatbox folk.

"My songwriting is running 180 degrees opposite of the confessional, baring-your-soul, sitting-on-a-stool, masquerading-as-a-sensitive-dude thing," Blowtorch says. "I hate being a singer-songwriter."

Recently, Blowtorch and Mike Plaisted have paired together in performances at soup kitchens and rehab centers. "It's a gig where you can feel your music has a purpose," he continues. "It's bringing joy, and it's an honor to play in those situations. Any musician trying to connect the political with the spiritual, the soulful with the social, should give it a try."

Blowtorch has always gravitated toward the political in his lyrics, but his approach, if not his message, has evolved. "I've decided I don't want to write complaint songs on specific questions," he explains. "It's more important to me to raise spirits rather than remind people of what's gone wrong."

Eric Blowtorch and Mike Plaisted perform 6-8 p.m. May 12 at Dryhootch, 1030 E. Brady St. Admission is free.
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