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Released a year after Mark Eitzel was nearly claimed by a heart attack, 2012's Don't Be a Stranger was an impressive album that was his strongest bit of record making in years. But the album sometimes suggested Eitzel was pacing himself, that he wasn't working at full strength as a singer or instrumentalist, and its tentative qualities seemed built into the songs and the music. Four-and-a-half years later, 2017's Hey Mr. Ferryman finds Eitzel sounding more confident and physically stronger than on his previous effort. Eitzel's vocal style is a few shades more subdued than in his glory days in American Music Club, but there's a cool but effective passion and force at work on songs like "The Road" and "La LLorona" that strikes right through the heart. As a songwriter, Eitzel is in typically impressive form, from the harrowing story of an abusive relationship in "Nothing and Everything" and a snapshot of a widower turned broken, small-time gambler in "An Angel's Wing Brushed the Penny Slots" to an artful but bitter portrait of a holiday spent with hateful distant relatives in "In My Role as a Professional Singer and Ham." And for Hey Mr. Ferryman, Eitzel found a splendid collaborator in former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who produced the album as well as handling most of the instrumental work. Butler's arrangements give the melodies the right degree of window dressing, and they complement the weight of the tunes beautifully. While the result is somewhat low key by Butler's standards, Hey Mr. Ferryman has a sense of drama and a musical depth that puts it in a league with Eitzel's best work, both as a solo act and with American Music Club. This is smart, passionate music, as strong musically as it is lyrically, and like so much of Eitzel's work, if it isn't always hopeful, it's full of a humanity that shines out through the darkness.