"You can't even remember how he entered your life he's been so omnipresent," Eleanor Friedberger says the morning the news broke of David Bowie's unexpected passing, two days after his 69th birthday. "I'll never understand how brilliantly he and Tony Visconti planned it, or not. But I think it was the most beautiful and magnificent way to go."
It was difficult to talk about anything but the loss of our beloved Thin White Duke the day we found out he had succumbed to an 18-month battle with liver cancer. In the case of Friedberger, it was an oddly fitting topic of conversation, given her stunning recent release New View (Frenchkiss Records). The album displays a sense of warmth you might get from the Starman's sweeter side. Recorded in Germantown with the Brooklyn-based band Icewater as her backing group, the 12 tracks find the Chicago native cutting closer to the cloth of rock purity than anything she's done in her 15 years in the business, both as a solo act and alongside her brother Matthew as The Fiery Furnaces. She doesn't cite Bowie as a direct influence on this LP, but admits the underrated beauty of Dark Horse Records-era George Harrison was, in fact, a primary creative touchstone in shaping the fabric of these songs.
"As a singer, I've always been drawn to voices," Friedberger says. "And with George Harrison, I just feel so connected to his voice. It's so comforting. This time last year I went to LA, because I wasn't quite mentally prepared to spend a winter in Upstate, New York. [Friedberger lives part-time in Ulster County.] A couple of my bandmates wanted to move to California, so we were all up for going and we went for a few months to work on some of my new songs. And while I was there I was staying at a friend's house who had this great box set of later George Harrison stuff. I brought the CD of his self-titled album in the car with me one day driving to practice, and 'Love Comes to Everyone' comes on and I'm thinking to myself, 'How have I not heard this song before?' I wound up listening to it like a hundred times (laughs). And Cloud Nine, that was my childhood right there. I remember putting on concerts and lip synching to that album."
Meanwhile, frequent visitors to Minnewaska State Park in New Paltz will definitely find themselves doing a double take on the landscape graced by Friedberger's presence on the gorgeous cover of New View. "We shot that up at Peter's Kill," she says. "It's so beautiful out there. That's one of my walks I take. It's like 30 minutes uphill and then you arrive at this amazing flat rock formation that just looks out toward the Catskills."
Yet while she's a resident of the area, Friedberger's upcoming show at Bearsville Theater marks only the second time she's played in the Hudson Valley area since the Furnaces performed in the Campus Center of Bard College back in 2009 when the sibling duo were touring behind their seventh studio album I'm Going Away.
"I played in Hudson in a little bar my friends opened called The Half Moon," she says. "But aside from that I haven't played in Ulster before, and I'm so excited. Not just because of the beauty and the history of that Bearsville stage, but also the fact that I can drive home afterward."
Eleanor Friedberger plays the Bearsville Theater on February 20 at 9pm. Big Thief opens. Tickets are $15. (845) 679-4406; Bearsvilletheater.com.