|John Paul White — Beulah (August 19, 2016)|
John Paul White — Beulah (August 19, 2016) ↑↓♠•♠↑↓ Pokud by William Faulkner vydal rockové album, znělo by takhle. Dark song lyrics meet ethereal, melodic music on John Paul White’s solo album.
↑↓♠•♠↑↓ Following the very public disintegration of the Civil Wars in 2012, John Paul White returns with a set of beautifully composed, utterly self~absorbed modern country songs. © Copyright © 2017 Tais Awards & Harvest Prize + Ron Paris
Location: Muscle Shoals, Alabama ~ Nashville, Tennessee
Album release: August 19, 2016
Record Label: SINGLE LOCK (RED)
01. Black Leaf 3:00
02. What’s So 4:17
03. The Once and Future Queen 3:53
04. Make You Cry 3:24
05. Fight for You 3:57
06. Hope I Die 3:59
07. I’ve Been over This Before (feat. The Secret Sisters) 3:18
08. The Martyr 3:29
09. Hate the Way You Love Me 4:04
10. I’ll Get Even 4:41Review
Alexis Petridis, Thursday 11 August 2016 15.00 BST / Score: ***
♠•♠ Few bands have imploded in public in recent years quite as unexpectedly as the Civil Wars. There was a moment, around five years ago, when the Nashville~based duo appeared to have a glittering future ahead of them. Their debut album, Barton Hollow, had been released to critical acclaim, strong sales and a plethora of awards. The press seemed fascinated: by their music, by the breathless celebrity endorsements from Taylor Swift and Adele, and by the fact that Joy Williams and John Paul White’s live performances were attended by a certain are~they~or~aren’t~they? sexual frisson.
♠•♠ And then, suddenly, everything went wrong. A documentary crew invited to film the recording of their eponymous second album unexpectedly found themselves making the alt~country Let It Be: awkward silences and tense exchanges abounded, with Williams and White seemingly engaged in a competition to see who could avoid looking directly at the other the longest. A European tour had to be abandoned immediately after a show at London’s Roundhouse in November 2012, which apparently marks the last time the pair spoke to each other. The album came out, but White refused to promote it, while Williams gave the occasional tearful interview. When the Civil Wars won their fourth Grammy in 2014, White accepted it alone, without mentioning Williams at all, instead thanking his wife and a plumber who was working on his house.
♠•♠ Perhaps understandably, the second Civil Wars album had a noticeably ominous tone to it — funereal~paced rhythms, bursts of serrated guitar, lyrics about dying relationships. Anyone believing that a few years away from his erstwhile musical partner — “semi~connected” to the music industry, co~founding his own label and studio — might have leavened John Paul White’s mood is in for quite a shock when they hear Beulah, a collection of songs that White claims he didn’t actually want to write: “Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realised the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down.”
♠•♠ You can see why the material might have given him pause. A lot of it sounds spectacularly gloomy and bitter. That’s often because it is spectacularly gloomy and bitter. There are songs on here about collapsed relationships that make his old fan Adele’s last album sound like a masterclass in the virtues of moving on and letting bygones be bygones: Make You Cry, which you would describe as self~explanatory were the lyrics not even more rancorous than its title suggests; The Once and Future Queen, which comes packing a chorus of “I never really loved you anyway — at least not unconditionally.” But occasionally, it manages to make even the most joyful of emotions feel like heartbreak. White has a way of writing paeans to his wife that make his love for her sound like an unimaginable burden — one of them is called Hope I Die — and her manifold qualities a source of distress. “You’re a hard woman to live with, I could never fill those shoes, an example for our children I could never live up to,” he sings on Hate the Way You Love Me. If that feels like an uncomfortably self~pitying way to write about a happy marriage — measuring his partner’s worth by his own inadequacy — then at least White seems aware of his solipsism: a song called The Martyr picks regretfully at his own self~absorption, his refusal to let things go. © Photo credit: Rick Diamond
♠•♠ The latter song sounds a little John Grantish in tone, although there’s none of Grant’s mordant wit on hand to undercut the bleakness. Instead, White relies on his melodic talent to carry the listener through. At their best, the Civil Wars tapped into something timeless and fundamental that could unite the Nashville establishment and the kind of people who would never ordinarily go near mainstream country. They wrote new songs that somehow sounded as if they’d always existed, a skill that clearly hasn’t deserted White since their break~up: you can hear it on the spare opener Black Leaf, while the gorgeous I’ve Been Over This Before is the kind of heart~worn country ballad that could have been a hit at any point in the last 70 years. But if the Civil Wars’ finest qualities are still much in evidence here, so are their shortcomings. Their least~inspired music had a tendency to devolve into MOR pop~rock, as does Beulah: Hope I Die spikes its AOR leanings with a claustrophobically close~miked vocal and a tense haze of strings, but The Martyr sounds worryingly like the kind of thing you hear mid~afternoon on BBC Radio 2, filling space between the factoids and the Non~Stop Oldies on Steve Wright’s show; dressed a little differently, Hate the Way You Love Me could wow them at The X Factor auditions.
♠•♠ In fact, Beulah is at its best when a little of the lyrical darkness bleeds into the sound. White can do Southern rock, as you might expect given his history: his first band, back in Tennessee, were called Nuthin’ Fancy, a name that somehow suggests they weren’t dealing in post~rock heavily influenced by Laughing Stock~era Talk Talk and avant~garde electronica, not least because it’s also the title of a Lynyrd Skynrd album. Fight for You and What’s So offer an appealingly spooked, sparse, echoey modernisation of the genre, more Cormac McCarthy than Capricorn Records. It’s hard not to hope White explores this direction further in future, but for now Beulah will do: mainstream and commercial, but odd and cranky with it, an album that sounds like it wasn’t so much written and recorded as got off his chest.
♠•♠ As one half of The Civil Wars, John Paul White was one of the most visible folk singer~songwriters in the country for a few years earlier this decade, winning four Grammys and collaborating, alongside musical partner Joy Williams, with big names like T Bone Burnett and Taylor Swift.
♠•♠ Beulah, which is White’s first solo album in eight years, is the highly anticipated, first complete musical statement from the singer since his work with The Civil Wars. There are no radical surprises on White’s latest album, a ten song set that features local Shoals musicians and delightful vocal accompaniment from the Secret Sisters. Instead, the record is, in many ways, the very project longtime fans of the Alabama singer~songwriter might have been hoping for for years: a direct collection of sharply~written originals that place White’s vulnerable vocals front and center. It makes sense that these songs ~ which interrogate feelings of jealousy, unworthiness, vengefulness, and commitment ~ are some of the most personal songs White has ever released: they’re also the first batch of songs he has ever composed solely by himself.
♠•♠ That’s not to say the album isn’t stylistically diverse. Indeed, White plays with dynamics to great effect on Beulah, drastically changing up tempos and arrangements from one song to the next. He displays his hard~rock leanings like never before on “What’s So” and “Fight For You,” whereas delicate, acoustic originals like “The Once And Future Queen” and “Hate The Way You Love Me” show off the singer’s penchant for soft spoken gravitas.
♠•♠ The latter song is the undisputed highlight here, a moving declaration of deep love that wrestles with romantic inadequacy and ranks as one of White’s greatest compositions to date. It’s just one of several songs, alongside “The Martyr” and “I’ve Been Over This Before” that comprise a jam~packed Side B of Beulah, where the album kicks into high gear after a slowish start.
♠•♠ If Beulah is any indication, John Paul White sounds best when he’s making music on precisely his own terms.
By Barry Mazor, Aug. 15, 2016 5:54 p.m. ET
Interview: By Andrew Leahey, August 22, 2016
|John Paul White — Beulah (August 19, 2016)|