Drinking deeply from the past is a reliable form of nourishment — it can soothe, and it can comfort. Some singers lean on it like a chaise. But some see it as a challenge, a high-wire act executed while surveilled by the unforgiving eyes of history.
Anderson East understands what’s at stake when channeling yesteryear. “Encore,” his second major-label album, is an often lustrous revisiting of raucous Southern soul, rousingly delivered and pinpoint precise. He has a voice full of extremely careful scrape and crunch, but his howls never feel unhinged.
Mr. East, 30, is originally from Alabama. In addition to songwriting — over the last two years, he’s collaborated regularly with Miranda Lambert, with whom he’s romantically linked — he has been tinkering with heritage soul music. His 2015 album, “Delilah,” was a slightly more tentative take on the style, but on “Encore,” he blossoms.
“King For a Day,” written by Mr. East with Chris and Morgane Stapleton, is a rollicking history lesson, and “Surrender” is a nod to the exuberant stomp of Ike and Tina Turner. Mr. East extends his approach even to covers, like his muscular soul update of the bluesman Ted Hawkins’s “Sorry You’re Sick,” which is punctuated with bright horns.
Executing at this level requires not just a vocalist who’s dutifully studied, but also a team of equally faithful students. “Encore” is produced by Dave Cobb, who has made tactile, glossed revivalism his stock in trade in recent years; it is performed by an exceptionally sharp band that is unshy and enthused.
The downside of this approach — at least for a singer — is that at times the music is so deeply reverent that it becomes the main character, the gasoline for the song’s emotional narrative, rendering the lyrics, and even the singing, immaterial. Such is the case on “House Is a Building,” which is a conversation between downcast piano and horns that Mr. East can’t penetrate, and on his sweet but level cover of Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces.”