Glass Castles

Andrew Adkins

Electrahead Media, 2016

http://andrewadkins.net

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/19/2016

Reviews sometimes involve a degree of synchronicity. In this case, my first listen to Andrew Adkins’ new album Glass Castles closely followed my reading the section of Peter Ames Carlin’s new Springsteen biography Bruce in which he describes events leading up to and surrounding the recording of Springsteen’s 1973 debut Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey. Springsteen had been a flashy guitar hero / bandleader on the Jersey shore for several years before Columbia A&R man John Hammond abruptly signed him as a solo artist. Having auditioned with just himself and an acoustic guitar, he proceeded to battle the expectations of his label—that he would be the “new Dylan,” an acoustic troubadour with a dense, highly literate lyrical style—through the entire recording process, adding instruments and bandmates day by day without ever breaking through the skewed vision Columbia initially held of who he was as an artist.

Producing his own disc on a small indie label, Nashville singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Adkins obviously faced no such pressure, and seems entirely comfortable in the musical skin he inhabits on Glass Castles—a skin that bears a distinct resemblance to Greetings-era Springsteen and/or pre-Newport, acoustic Dylan. You hear it from the opening bars of “Freeborn Heart”—the acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica folk arrangement with banjo and steel guitar offering country accents, backing a skilled wordsmith with a rough-hewn voice whose deep conviction brings results: the voice might not qualify as “pretty,” but this of keening plea of a song surely does. (“I never said that I was lonely / But I’m lonely and I’m desperately in need of a dear friend.”) my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Dylan point of reference is cemented by the arrival of the even prettier “May The Stars Fall At Your Door,” whose lyric offers a lengthy list of good wishes for its object (“May your prayers all be answered / May the best of everything your way come”) that keeps feeling like it wants to end a couplet with “May you stay forever young.” Thankfully, it doesn’t, but this sweet original surely counts as homage. “Like A Stone” (no “Rolling”) has a similarly Dylanesque cast to the lyric, informing the noncommittal “lady of mine” he’s wooing that “My heart’s like a stone when thrown / It just sinks to the bottom.”

As the album progresses the arrangements pick up fresh flavors and shading, with “The River In All Of Us” adding drums and “Flicker Out And Fade” adding oomph to the electric guitars. The Dylanisms resurface when “The Ballad Of Wayne WV” opens with a wheezy Hammond organ fresh from Highway 61 Revisited, though Adkins layers a classic soul horn chart on top of it.

Adkins’ voice has an edge of rasp that makes every tune here feel a little world-weary, whether the song itself is wistful—as on the boastfully-yet-accurately named “The Song That Made The World Cry”—or matter-of-fact, as on the sharply-realized title cut (whose principal melody feels like it might borrow something from Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”).

Highlights toward the tail end include the early-rock, “night on the town” bounce of “Old Coal Town”; when the electric guitar and horns kick in on the chorus, it’s an instant party. By contrast, “As Above As So Below” is a dark, heavy number that opens acoustic and apocalyptic (“Some pray for peace, some just pray for rain”) before zooming in further (“I’ve got skin like armor, I don’t feel anything / I’ve got a heart that’s fractured deep within my chest”). With a rippling tension running through every line, the song builds steadily, adding percussion, bass and electric guitar verse by verse. Closer “Jubilee” turns in a different direction, going full-on country-blues with fiddle, dobro, a gospel chorus, and a vibe that manages to feel both celebratory and valedictory, a hoedown at a funeral.

While Andrew Adkins offers respectful nods to this album’s clear antecedents, Glass Castles emerges as an original piece of work, an album of rich, vibrant country-folk featuring heartfelt lyrics and sharp, creative arrangements that dip into every corner of the Great American Songbook. There’s no telling, of course, but if you ask me, Bruce would surely dig it.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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