Jason Eady – Jason Eady
Old Guitar Records/Thirty Tigers – 21 April 2017
When, several albums into their career, an artist adopts an eponymous title for their latest it usually signifies some break from what’s gone before and the start of something new. To an extent, that holds true for this, the sixth from Mississippi-bred Jason Eady whose already changed course from bluesy America into classic country. This is still very much Texas red dirt country, but more stripped back than his last two offerings, a rootsy approach that puts the spotlight on the writing and where influences such as Guy Clark, John Prine, Steve Earle and Merle Haggard shine through.
Produced by Kevin Welch and wholly acoustic save for Lloyd Maines’steel guitar, featuring fiddler Tammy Rogers and vocal contributions from wife Courtney Patton and Vince Gill, Eady’s rugged, dusty voice pulls you into a collection of thoughtful, involved and often emotionally resonant songs.
The album gets underway in particularly strong form with Barabbas, sung from the perspective of the man the crowd chose to free rather than Jesus as he balances his new found freedom with the guilt that goes with it and how “on this side of forgiveness we all have our cross to bear”. It might be a Biblical reference, but the song plays out like one of Clark’s old west ballads. He’s in a similarly thoughtful vein on the jaunty Black Jesus, the timely story of a white man and a black man working side by and forging a friendship through, among other things, introducing one another to country and the blues respectively. The only difference between them, says Eady, is the colour of their God.
Sandwiched between is the bluegrassy banjo accompanied Drive, a song previously recorded by The Trishas, but here it takes on a more upbeat tone with the singer driving way from a toxic relationship. Another leaving song comes with the slow-paced Why I Left Atlanta, only this time it’s the narrator driving way from a relationship and the dreams that he wrecked.
Taken at a similarly slow pace with Gill on harmonies, the drawled No Genie In This Bottle is a poignant steel-coloured story song about fruitlessly looking for meaning and answers in drink and “as I get closer to the bottom I find it just as empty as it was before.” The quest to find salvation or redemption is there too on Rain, Rogers’ fiddle affording a down-home feel to the bluesy gospel call to be cleansed.
The dappled love song Where I’ve Been has been recorded twice before, first by Patton on 2015’s, So This Is Life and then by her and Eady on last year’s duets album Something Together. This time round, he takes the vocal spotlight while she provides the harmonies and it certainly stands hearing again in a new setting.
Things get frisky with the shuffling Waiting To Shine, another contribution to the travelling musician genre. Basically about the songwriting process, while the line about singing words someone left behind might suggest stealing another’s lyrics (“finders are keepers, and I’ll take all the keepers I can find”), it’s more about finding inspiration in those you meet along the way whose words are like diamonds “buried in the bottom of the coal just waiting to shine.”
The last two numbers strike a personal note, both to do with the passing years. With Maines on keening steel, Not Too Loud is an account of watching his daughter grow, from schooldays waiting for him to come home to driving around with friends and writing college applications and the pride in seeing “the woman she’s growing to be” while holding on to the memories of his little girl. It sounds sentimental, but it’s very touching.
The perspective shifts for the final number, 40 Years, which, backed by fiddle and delivered in that Clark-styled semi-spoken manner, has him looking back on his own life and the things learned in his four decades, the blind kind of courage and the good kind of fear, reaping what you sow and how you just keep doing those things you believe in. Hopefully making albums like this is one of them.