The Natural World, meanwhile, stems from Eckert's self-proclaimed existence as "a musical nomad." And that was really the case; Two years ago he took a cross-country trip in a rented truck that he filled with a variety of instruments -- "all my ukuleles, guitars, accordions" -- and played shows anywhere that would have him. "I sent word out and said, 'Look, this is all paid for. I will do any gig for free. You don't have to house me, you don't have to feed me. Wherever you want me to perform, I'll be there,'" Eckert recalls. "Pretty soon the schedule was pretty packed, and I went place to place performing. I logged 10,000 miles and I felt wonderful." He also wrote songs during the journey, and during a stop in Berkeley, he dropped in on Townsend to play him the material, and the producer promptly booked time at Fantasy Studios for five days of sessions that produced the bulk of The Natural World.
"He got all excited; This is a record he's been meaning to do with me for years," Eckert says. "I didn't have any choice but to get swept up in it."
The inspiration didn't stop once he hit to the studio, as evidenced by "Time Is Our Own." "One day I walked in and said, 'I woke up at five this morning and had these two melodies in my head. I don't know what they are.'" Townsend was working on something else they'd already recorded and gave Eckert time to work on the new ideas. "I wrote a completely new piece, and within three hours we'd recorded the whole thing," Eckert says. "I don't think we even had a tune for it when we started recording; We said, 'Let's just go for it...' I delved into my little pile of lyrics and came up with something that felt right, and it turned out great."
Eckert was also a one-man band on The Natural World, playing a wealth of instruments -- guitars, piano, electronic keyboards/samples, accordion, South American wood flute, hand percussion, tenor banjo, dobro ukulele, banjo ukulele, shruti box and penny whistle -- and performing all the vocals. "I thought it would be a lot lonelier, but it wasn't so bad," he says. "I was having such a good time with all the instruments. I was doing all these things that were meaningful to me, like goat bells at the end of 'Lonely Shepherd' that reminded me of the time I spent in the Great Pyrenees. So it was very freeing for me, I think -- not that I'd want to do that all the time, but it just felt right for this particular record."
Eckert will celebrate The Natural World's release with a performance on Aug. 26 at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. Meanwhile he's hard at work on a musical theater piece based on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn stories, which has been commissioned by the Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J. "I'm playing a lot of slide guitar now in anticipation that I'm going to need some backwoods kind of feels," he says. Eckert will present what he's done so far during September, but there's no timetable for when it will be finished and on stage. "I'm not in a hurry to get it up and running," Eckert says. "I felt like the last job I did was rushed; It was OK but just wasn't any fun, and I don't want to do that again. So I want to take my time and have fun. It always makes me a lot happier if I'm not in a real hurry."