For nearly two decades, Eric Krasno has been an omnipresent figure in popular music. We've heard his virtuosic, innovative guitar playing with Soulive and Lettuce (both of which he co-founded), seen him onstage supporting the likes of the Rolling Stones and The Roots, watched him take home multiple GRAMMY Awards, and benefited from his deft, behind-the-scenes work as a producer and songwriter for everyone from Norah Jones, Tedeschi Trucks, and 50 Cent to Talib Kweli, Aaron Neville, and Allen Stone. Krasno's rousing new solo album, 'Blood From A Stone,' reveals a previously unknown and utterly compelling side of his artistry, though, inviting us to bear witness as he both literally and metaphorically finds his voice.
"I’ve been writing songs with vocals for other people for a while," explains Krasno, who sings for the first time on 'Blood From A Stone.' "With these songs, we initially wrote them thinking others would sing them, so when I was in the studio with different artists, sometimes I'd introduce one of the tracks and they'd record it, but it wouldn't necessarily work out. Eventually, I realized it was because I'd written these songs for myself."
It might sound strange hearing Krasno discuss the idea of "finding his voice" so deep into a career already chock full of remarkable songwriting, but as he sees it, there's something new, something intimately personal about this album that urged him to step up to the microphone for the first time. And though so much about this album feels like uncharted territory, in some ways, it brings him all the way back to his musical roots.
"Growing up, I listened to Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead, along with a lot of hip-hop," remembers Krasno. "When I linked up with Soulive, we played instrumental music, and that's the path I’ve mostly been on ever since. This record loops back to those initial bands and songs I loved, but with the added experience and influence of the past 20 years."
When it came time to begin formal work on the album, Krasno left his home in New York City to join Dave Gutter from Rustic Overtones in Maine for the first writing session, which turned out to be so productive that the two had penned most of the album in just a few days. In a shift from the looser, jam/funk spirit that has marked Krasno's previous work, the songs for 'Blood From A Stone' took shape as tight, infectious, highly structured blues and R&B-based tracks. Krasno and Gutter commiserated over recent relationship turmoil and their shared love of music like Bobby “Blue” Bland's ‘Dreamer’ and Muddy Waters' ‘Electric Mud’ to create a sonic palette at once classic and modern, deeply personal and totally timeless. Deciding to strike while the iron was hot, the duo headed into Gutter's barn along with Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce) to lay down what they envisioned to be demos, but in fact turned out to be the backbone of the album.
"We set up an old tape machine and pieced together gear and borrowed microphones and cobbled a little studio together," remembers Krasno. "It was one of those things where, once people heard the songs we were coming up with, every musician in town started coming by with gear and helping out. We didn't realize we were actually making the record, so there was no pressure, and that let us experiment in really cool ways. There's a lot of rawness to the recordings, and that really bled into the performances and my vocal delivery."
It's apparent from the first moments of the funky, Hendrix-esque album opener "Waiting On Your Love" that Krasno's voice has been an ace up his sleeve this whole time. Rich, warm, and full-bodied, his tone blends earnest sincerity with casual swagger and, much like his guitar playing, taps into a deep vein of emotion. On "Torture" and "Jezebel," he sings as a bruised survivor of love-gone-bad, while the slow-jam of "Please Ya" channels Otis Redding soul, and "On The Rise" builds off a bass-and-percussion groove with psychedelic samples and gorgeous harmonies. The album has its lighter moments, too, from "Unconditional Love"—inspired by the spirit-lifting arrival of Gutter's daughter after school every day—to "Natalie"—a romantic ode to an automobile originally written during Krasno's Soulive days. It's an eclectic collection, to be sure, but it's all tied beautifully together through Krasno's understated vocals and skillful songcraft, which always leaves enough room for him to stretch out on his six-string.
As brilliant as Krasno's guitar work is throughout the album, though, Derek Trucks arrives as a special guest on "Curse Lifter"—a hypnotic instrumental that lands somewhere between Santana and the Allman Brothers—to give him a real run for his money.
"Derek is my favorite guitar player in the world," says Krasno. "I've known him for close to 20 years, because the first national tour Soulive ever did was with the Derek Trucks Band, and we've been super close ever since. I've watched him progress into the best, and it was really important to have him on this record."
The track's gorgeous, evocative guitar harmonies are a fitting way of bringing things full circle for Krasno, who's so often utilized his guitar in the service of others. In the end, he may not have drawn blood from a stone, but Krasno discovered deep wells of soul and untapped reservoirs of talent by recording this album, and he opened up entirely new worlds for himself as an artist in the process.
"It's something I didn’t know was there," he concludes. "I would have been totally content just being a guitar player and writing songs for other people, but this inspiration just happened, and I'm really glad it did, because it's changed things. I didn't know I had this in me.”