In a former life as a concert promoter in Brighton, the majority of the shows I helped to stage were, as intended when we started, of a roots bent. We were known principally as alt. country specialists, but the parameters were such that we hosted pure country, bluegrass, and country-rock acts, as well as lots of folk and singer-songwriter fare in all their guises. At many of these shows, I DJ-ed under the tongue-in-cheek moniker of the Jukebox of Misery, named thus because I have always been, and continue to be, drawn to the more melancholy, reflective aspect of country music. To that end, this wistful new album from Zachary Lucky is right up my alley.
Simply put, Lucky’s fourth full-length release, Everywhere a Man Can Be, is a collection of (mainly) road songs, but also an explicitly Canadian album. In all but two cuts, the Saskatoon native tells of the thousands of miles he has eaten up along the highways of Canada and parts of the US, in a nine-song collection of contemplative travelogue entries. Forming the heart of this offering are thoughts and memories from long night drives, and meditations of life on the road, both as a touring musician and a Canadian in awe of the inspiring landscapes of his homeland. The lyrics are scattered with place names and those of country music legends, seemingly as influential and memorable as each other to the songwriter as he has gone about his business across a vast continent. In a nutshell, however, the album’s central themes are encapsulated in just one line from Come and Gone, when Lucky states:
I’m thinking of all the time that’s passed, all my eyes have seen.
From the first seconds of the slow-paced opening track Lost My Way (Now and Then), the tone is set with a pedal steel, courtesy of Aaron Goldstein, who while widely known for his work with Lee Harvey Osmond and Huron, has worked with Cowboy Junkies, The Sadies, and Daniel Romano among many. Then in comes the 27-year-old Lucky’s sonorous voice, a honeyed combination of Charlie Rich and Randy Travis, delivered in the been-around-the-block-more-than-a-few-times manner of Kris Kristofferson or Richard Buckner. It’s a great, soulful country voice, yet with a storyteller’s resonance that compels you to listen to his tales.
It is interesting to note that, apart from Sell All You Have – about the toil and hardship of farm life – and South Colorado Murder Ballad – barroom gun violence galore – the remaining seven songs all concern themselves in one way or another with the road, the theme doesn’t pale at all. Instead, it pulls you along with Lucky as he traverses North America, a romantic widescreen panorama of the continent opening up before the listener. It is unavoidable when there are frequent mentions of such as the Rio Grande; the Rockies and the prairies; highway lines, great lakes, and sunsets. Such imagery is common in country music but rarely used with such subtlety as Lucky employs to paint vivid pictures of his travels.
Fiddles, banjos and the expected country and folk instrumentation make their appearances, and no new sonic ground is broken, but with high praise and warranted comparisons to the ilk of Jay Farrar, Gordon Lightfoot, and Townes Van Zandt already dispatched his way, it seems that Lucky has absolutely no need to mess with a winning and timeless formula.
Everywhere a Man Can Be is Out Now on Wroxton Recordings and through Fontana North.
Available on iTunes, Spotify and all streaming platforms