Image by Jamie Strachan
After buying every EP and LP, attending more than a handful of shows, and even interviewing the man, I was pretty sure I knew Bobby Long the musician and wordsmith. As was the case before Wishbone (Longs sophomore full-length effort) was released, I was wrong.
Following the rock-driven Devil Moon, Blood in the Orchard, and Yesterday Yesterday from Wishbone, I expected him to announce his presence with raucous riffs as he blazed into the first song. Instead, Ode to Thinking begins with delicate, dexterous acoustic guitar and tender voice. In with a whisper, the chorus, supported by his own backing vocals, swells at just the right rate, draws in the listener (who may very well still be recovering from the shock of the quiet), and sets the hooks deep.
His scarred tenor slips right into the second track, Cold Hearted Lover of Mine. This is the country heartbreak song Nashville has been waiting for since country went pop. The driving tempo then crashes in with Im Not Going Out Tonight, the rock I expected when I first hit the play button. With hints of his professed influencesRyan Adams and 70s-era Bob Dylanthe result is still pure Bobby Long. Sandpaper vocals and, as Bobby says, Americana momentsin a platonic mix of European and American styles.
Though the album is cohesive in both style and thought, some tunes do wander a bit off the path for a rather breathtaking few minutes. This happens with Something Blue Something Borrowed. Id heard the song performed in a live setting, just Bobby and his guitar but wasnt prepared for the hints of 50s doo wop and even 60s psychedelic rock (but only a very small hint in the backing chords, which call to mind the organ in Procol Harums Whiter Shade of Pale) when presented with the recorded version.
Again with The Dark Wont Get Darker, theres another subtle change in style that carries through the following two tracks. Theres a haunting quality to the melody, both tempered and supported by the instrumentation. Here, he performs some vocal acrobatics Ive never heard from him before. His rich baritone is almost overshadowed by his falsetto octaves higher, but the harmony is so pure that the two voices sound like one.
The Song the Kids Sing is a true standout track. He calls this song kind of a youthful finger to my hometown and the worst side of it. Theres a sort of creepy circus vibe, with a minor-key oompah-pah, bringing immediately to mind a doomed child. Though there are no creepy clowns, the lyrics do fit the scene thats set. Long says, I tried to remember how I felt at 15 and feeling like I would never get out of the place. Small towns suck you in If ever there was a song that captured the dread a kid might feel at being stuck forever, its this one.
Then theres 1985, which is, to date, my favorite Bobby Long tune. Double-tracked falsetto gives strength to an otherwise fragile vocal, breaking the heart almost immediately. The restrained guitar and piano at first calls to mind late Beatles ballads like In My Life or Something, but the voice is smoother, sweeter. Filled with longing, this song makes me yearn for something, too. Perhaps for something I shouldntsomething best left behind.
With That Little Place, we stumble right back into a brighter Americana feel with the perfect closing track. Opening harmonica slips into roughened vocals. This is the Bobby his fans know, but he doesnt leave the darkness behind completely. Lyrics about a house on cursed and uneven land let us know hes still working on saying goodbye to a painful part of his life.
This album is a journey through his heart and mind, with probably the most personal lyrics Ive heard so far. The road begins with familiar territory and climbs to new musical heights before veering off into darker lands. In the end, were back where we began, but we cant shake off the weight from the heavier tunes. And I didnt get to ask, but Id say thats exactly what he hoped wed feel.