Eric Hutchinson's success as a singer-songwriter could be measured by the Baltimore venues he's played.
After honing his skills on smaller, now-defunct stages such as Fletcher's and the Funk Box, the 32-year-old Takoma Park native headlined the considerably larger Rams Head Live this past June. The rapturous response, according to the Warner Bros. recording artist, was impossible to ignore.
"It was one of the best shows on the tour," Hutchinson said. "It felt like a hometown show. No one sings louder than Baltimore."
On Sunday, Hutchinson will return to Rams Head Live for his "Almost Solo" tour, a cross-country expedition that finds the singer getting "back to basics." Hutchinson views the tour as a way to reconnect with the audience through taking requests and telling the stories behind the songs.
"For years, I went around in my Honda Civic and played solo acoustic [shows] all over the country, and because of that, I developed a certain style of talking with the audience," he said. "The show has changed, in a good way, but I missed talking to the crowd. So this is stripped down — just me and Elliot Blausfuss, my longtime keyboard player."
The duo's set will include songs from Hutchinson's latest album, April's "Moving Up Living Down," a 10-song effort filled mostly with upbeat tunes. The opening track, "Talk is Cheap," is Hutchinson's cheery version of a rallying cryl, reminding listeners to take action rather than simply mouse-click through life.
"Especially with Twitter, which I love, I think our culture is moving toward talking rather than doing anything," Hutchinson said. "It's as close as I'll ever get to a protest song."
Labeling himself a "cynical optimist," Hutchinson has a penchant for putting positive spins on his lyrics. (On "I'm Not Cool," he sings, "I'm just a regular guy in an insane world / Don't worry about me, I'll be OK.") Hutchinson says that while he first started writing this way to reassure himself, he now does it to brighten listeners' moods.
"I'm trying to tell myself, 'Things aren't so bad,' " Hutchinson said. "But I did feel a certain responsibility because fans told me that first record [2008's "Sounds Like This"] was their pick-me-up record. I wanted to make another record people could do the same thing with."
Besides uplifting fans, Hutchinson aims to educate. He hopes a song such as the piano-driven single "The Basement" will introduce a new generation to the influential soul music he fell in love with long ago. During the final minute of the song, amid hand claps and horns, Hutchinson pays respect to Ronald Isley, Tina Turner and other of-the-era artists. He wrote it after a long night of partying at the Basement, a hip watering hole in Northampton, Mass.
"After one of my shows, I went to this club that was playing old records, like actual vinyl," he said. "I had a few too many drinks and woke up wondering the next morning if it was real. But that song was a fun way to pay homage to those artists and to also point new people in those directions."
With the tour keeping him on the road until mid-December, Hutchinson has been working brand-new songs into his sets. After the winter holidays, he'll enter a studio to record them.
For Hutchinson, there's no time for an extended break — not when the perfect pop song is still out there, waiting to be written. Or, as he sings on his latest album's finale: "I've come a long way, but I'm not there yet."
"Every time I sit down to write, I try to write the best song of all time," Hutchinson said. "There's always work to be done."
If you go: Eric Hutchinson performs Sunday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Jessie Payo will also perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun