Paul, Billy, Michael and the boys have produced a wonderfully rich and varied record this time out. From the lush productions of Everybody Wishes, Lucky 7 Ranch and the title track to the spare and minimal approach to Burning Blue and When The Long Road Ends, there is something here for almost anyone. Overriding the entire effort is the accessible every-man vibe that Paul and Billy bring to the lyrics. Whatever opinion of the music and style, no one can argue that they have nothing to say.
Lucky 7 Ranch is one of only two tracks that would have served as an opener for this album (the title track is the other). But as Rob Gordon said of musical compilations (and all albums are compilations, though he was speaking specifically of mixed discs), "you have to start with a bang". Lucky 7 Ranch has that bang, from the first blast of Jeffrey's kick drum to the brilliant interplay between Bill and Michael on the break, the song is a wonderfully crafted opener. Lyrically, the inventive cleverness of wonderful lines "like a snowball they rolled down the aisle...she'd soon be 18" and "you can't grow pretty flowers by a house built on the sand" are what we've come to expect from Paul.
To carry on the High Fidelity metaphor, the boys then "kick it up a notch" with Everybody Wishes, one of my picks for a single. Realistically, there is no good reason this song should not be a huge mainstream hit.
I'm Still Here. The only thing I can say about this song is that it obviously had more loving attention lavished on it in the studio than any other track.
Long Way From Tupelo is the very first song I heard off this album before there even was an album. It's really the only other song that could have served as an opener. I loved it then and I love it now (even though/especially because) it's changed so much. I REALLY love Bill's new solo on this one. Definitely the story of a song that grew up right.
Crutches has a bouncy optimism that makes everything seem possible. The girls are especially brilliant on this one.
It Don't Get Any Better Than This has a wonderfully inventive lyric that from one angle is a paean to redemption and from another is perhaps the finest song about entropy ever written.
Paul is more clever than the average songwriter. Lines like "I'll be a human bottle rocket and I'll go off with a bang" (Mission Temple Fireworks Stand) and "I guess the will of god has got to be obeyed, but I know I wouldn't do it if I didn't get paid" (Downtown Babylon) establish that without a doubt. But one of the pitfalls of being more clever than most, is that occasionally things that make perfect sense to you are lost on others. All About the People is a case in point. The verses are brilliant synopses of people struggling to get by in life. Then the chorus (which may the be most sing-along chorus on the whole record...I literally got goose bumps the first time I heard it) comes right out of leftfield and I'm still trying to figure out what it means.
Every so often I get a reminder of what an inventive and original player Richard Dabbs is and this album's tutorial on the subject is Burning Blue. Dabbs' base line and Jason Palmer's percussion sinuously twist and twine about the vocal, which may very well be the most assured performance Paul's ever given.
For many people (especially casual or non-fans), It's A Great Day has become Paul's signature song, much to Paul's chagrin as all Paulaholics know only too well. And while funny and something that almost anyone who has a job can relate to, it is far, far from the best or most enjoyable song to ever flow from his pen. What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up is a great attempt to make a new signature. The lyric is certainly more in line with Paul's outlook on life and if it doesn't resonate with people on an emotional level, well then this country could be in a lot of trouble. Musically, this is just one of my favorite pieces. Michael's rollicking, barrelhouse piano is a treat and just about nothing makes me happier than when they hand Bill a slide. Jeffrey and Doug's rhythm section is tight and muscular and holds everything together without seeming to do so. This song also contains my favorite production decision. Candice, Dena and Jenny are fantastic singers and the easy, obvious choice on a quasi-gospel number is to bring in the choir to back the preacher. Instead, Billy decided to build a "Wall of Paul" for the backgrounds that both kept the focus on the lead vocal and built the song into a much more personal statement. Absolute genius.
Anyone who worries about Paul's marriage based on songs like Lucky 7 Ranch, It Don't Get Any Better Than This, Burning Blue or Long Way From Tupelo can rest easy after Starvin' For Your Kisses. This is without question the filthiest love song a man ever wrote to his wife. There is very little about this song that does not moan and sigh and plead for gratification.
When the Long Road Ends is the perfect closer. I love everything about it. From the mandolin to Paul sisters singing harmonies (which are spectacular) the song is just about perfect. I knew Paul's sisters would sound great on this after seeing them in Tupelo and am really glad Billy gave them a chance.
Thanks and kudos to Paul, Billy and the guys for adding another chapter in a great musical catalog. I intend to enjoy this one for a while because we all know it will be a while before we get another. ;>
A Long Way from Tupelo