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Eagle-Eye Cherry

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When Eagle-Eye Cherry's single, "Save Tonight," hit the top of the charts in 1999, it seemed to explode out of nowhere. With an infectious chorus and driving guitars, it propelled his debut album, Desireless, to platinum status, and drove this unknown singer from Stockholm to countless radio stations and over 300 gigs across the globe. Or at least, that's what it looked like on this side of the Atlantic. On the other, Eagle-Eye had been quietly recording in his apartment; without fanfare, he signed to a Swedish independent label, and slowly watched his popularity swell, like a mounting hurricane, throughout Europe. By the time it touched down on these shores in the summer of 1999, the New York-schooled performer was as seasoned at the stage as any newcomer could hope to be. Of course, having watched his father, legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, and sister, trip-hop pioneer Neneh, on similar trajectories helped to dampen the shock of global success.

Though Desireless sold over one million copies in the states (over 4 million worldwide), for Eagle-Eye, it was only a starting point, a springboard for greater heights. After two years of touring and barely one week off, Eagle-Eye Cherry returns with his follow-up album, Present/Future. A raucous affair that's as plugged-in as Desireless was stripped down, it picks up precisely where the last album left off. From the opener, the breezy, sing-along "Been Here Once Before," to the rousing first single, "Feels So Right," to the hard-rocking "Are You Still Having Fun," to the Dylanesque "Shades of Gray" or the string-laced "Promises Made," Present/Future showcases a songwriter who can capture emotional complexity without losing his flair for simple, timeless melodies. With the help of producers Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy), John Kurzweg (Jewel, Creed) and Adam Kviman (Eagle-Eye's "Save Tonight") and some vocal sweetening from his sister, Eagle-Eye delivers an album that's radio-friendly, hypnotic, and ultimately from the heart.

And though it appears to be fated, it took many roads to arrive at Present/Future. Growing up as the son of a famed trumpeter, and the brother to a pop star, Eagle-Eye's childhood was immersed in music. One could even say he literally cut his teeth on a drumkit: he lost his first pearly white at age three, on a set his dad brought home. His other front tooth was knocked out at Ornette Coleman's house weeks later. But by the time he was old enough to attend the High School of Performing Arts in New York, Eagle-Eye had caught the acting bug and was spending nights and weekends on commercial shoots and off-broadway stages. Before he'd hit his mid-twenties, offers were rolling in - as well as money. "I started getting a lot of work, and in New York, the money was really good," he says. "It wasn't like I was consciously forgoing the family business, it's just that I was the class clown, and loved acting."

Eventually, though, he realized that an actor is little without a great script- while a musician calls the shots. "So I started buying equipment, just to learn about sampling and programming," he says. Not long after, Eagle-Eye's father passed away, leaving his son overwhelmed by emotion. Recognizing that getting away from the madness of New York would help him heal, Eagle-Eye headed back to Stockholm with little more than the shirt on his back, hoping to find solace and peace of mind. What he found was music. "The apartment I rented had an acoustic guitar, which I'd never really played with before," he says, noting that he'd dabbled in songwriting, and played the drums in a few bands while in high school. "It gave me an outlet of expression and forced me to simplify my ideas." Recording in his apartment, in the vacuum of Stockholm, Eagle-Eye found his sound more American than ever. "When you get distance, you gain some perspective," he says. With little effort, he signed to a Swedish independent label and planned to release an acoustic record without any fanfare. "I made a mellow album, thinking I could tour with an acoustic trio. I had no idea I'd be playing huge radio shows or clubs with over 20,000 people in attendance." Desireless was released in Sweden, then the rest of Scandinavia in 1998; it broke across Europe resulting in a Top 5 single in the U.K., and word got out in the U.S. In February 1999, he signed an American deal with the WORK Group, and fastened his seatbelt for a ride into the stratosphere. "But it didn't feel like I exploded," he says. "For me, it was a slow build." In August 1999, Desireless was released in the States to much anticipation. Eagle-Eye could see what was coming.

During an incessant touring schedule that took him around the world, Eagle-Eye made time (at the request of Carlos Santana) to write and record lead vocals on "Wishing It Was," which appeared on Santana's smash album, Supernatural, and appeared on every major talk show in America. At the end of a whirlwind two years on the road, Eagle Eye found himself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at Desireless' final show. When he got home to Stockholm, his long-term girlfriend's half of the closet was empty. Getting to work seemed the best medicine. "I felt like it would be dangerous for me to take a break, to let all that had happened to me sink in," he says. He flew to New York, spent three weeks holed up writing, then headed into the studio with the legendary producer Rick Rubin, who had approached the singer after Eagle-Eye received his first Grammy nomination in 2000.

"I like the simplicity of Rick's style, and the fact that he likes to record live. There's something that happens when musicians are playing in a room together, looking each other in the eyes. It's magic," he says. While in Magic Shop studios, recording "Long Way 'Round," a light bulb went off in Eagle Eye's mind. "I had originally envisioned Taj Mahal duetting with me on that song, but when we were recording it with Rick, it just hit me: It's a party song, and Neneh is a party girl," he recalls. "So I called Neneh up, and she said, it's about time, and she was on the next flight. It was perfect, totally spontaneous." After a total of eight unconstrained days in the studio, a surprised Eagle-Eye realized he had half of an album done. Getting word of Eagle-Eye's seemless sessions, MCA signed the artist soon after the WORK Group shut down.

Present/Future not only picks up where Desireless left off, it elevates Eagle-Eye to a new plane of songwriting - one where the meaning is inherent in the melody, and the Swedish winter is not as omnipresent as it was in his earlier songs. "The final song I wrote for Desireless was "Save Tonight," and I could tell that my next album would be more uptempo, more optimistic," he says. For this prolific writer, the 13 songs on Present/Future came swiftly - though they did take some serious concentration. "It's like having butterflies floating around the room. If the phone rings, they all disappear out the window. I think about that all the time - if a bus drove by or someone honked, I could have lost any of these songs."

Thankfully, these songs were not stolen by happenstance. Brimming with emotion and themes ranging from heartache and frustration to chaos and hopefulness, Present/Future, as its title suggests, deals with what's here, now, and immediate. And with the first single, "Feels So Right," it sets a rollicking, head-bobbing, energetic mood. But whether the sound channels urban energy, as "Burning Up" and "Together" do, or it taps into the blues, like "One Good Reason," or it calls on guitar-driven good ol' American Rock n' Roll, as "Are You Still Having Fun" does, each song stands on its own - and each song has the potential to take Eagle-Eye beyond anyone's expectations. "I'm definitely trying to keep it real now, trying to capture the essence of a live show," says Eagle-Eye. "Maybe that means the next album will be totally produced, just to counteract what I'm doing now."

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