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John Paul White goes deep into history to emerge with something fresh and new

Last updated on November 20, 2020

The best music transports listeners to a place in our memories; virtual time machines in three-quarter time. The Hurting Kind from John Paul White on Single Lock Records is that type of subtle brilliance.

The Civil Wars (of which John Paul White was half) have impacted Indie Americana and folk music worldwide. White’s follow-up to his 2016 solo record Beulah is not a break from that talent, but another incarnation of that talent. White’s record is grounded in the man as an artist, yet the work is as unclassifiable and uncategorizable as music released from his Grammy-award winning duo. The choice of recording at Sun Drop Studios, a converted barn home studio in Alabama, gives this record palpable authenticity. White really lets the magic fly with co-producer Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) shaping the tunes on this ten-song gem.

White draws on a deep well of collaborators for this album. He is joined on the record by Pat Bergeson (Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris) on electric guitar, Jon Estes (Robyn Hitchcock, Kesha) and David Hood (Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) on bass Jon Radford (Leigh Nash, Odessa) and Reed Watson on drums, and Lillie Mae (Jack White) on fiddle. Guest vocals from Lee Ann Womack and background vocals from Erin Rae and The Secret Sisters add a lush texture stunning songwriting deserves. Songwriting collaborations with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock make that connection to Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins and Roy Orbison real.

This huge number of collaborators results in a large amount of musical styles on the record. With such a cross-section of genres, only one thread is consistent throughout: this troubadour crafts the sounds of America from the streets of Nashville to now. Opening with “The Good Old Days,” we can all wonder where those went; divisiveness, chaos and uncertainty may be signs of our times driving us back toward thoughts of the good old days (whenever those were). Dark lyricism juxtaposed against upbeat guitar and fiddle-driven composition foreshadow the brilliance ahead.

The genres get moving on the second song: “Yesterday’s Love” is an old Nashville country song that Patsy Cline would be proud to sing. Shifting gears into indie rock vocals, White throws down with “The Long Way Home.” This cut is crafted brilliantly: heavy-handed bass balances out with piano punctuation. Sometimes the artist channels greatness, as “I Wish I Could Write You Could Write You A Song” oozes an essence of Roy Orbison. It feels like an intentional compositional connection to one of pop’s greatest songwriters. Orchestral production choices, great guitar work, and haunting vocals create a John Paul White experience, not just simply a song.

Lyrically, The Hurting Kind is a flashback to a time when Nashville produced music that felt real. This is music circa 1960, but transformed, with the essence of old Nashville gracing each song. The ten tracks range from the title track’s female perspective on love to the achingly subtle “This Isn’t Gonna End Well (feat. Lee Ann Womack)”. White and Womack work well together, creating some of the best imagery and harmonies on the record, wrapped in a lush soundscape of instrumentation. “You Found Me” weaves a tapestry of fiddle through the lyricism, oozing aching heartbreak. This is country like your grandparents loved.

Inspired by Glen Campbell, “James” says goodbye with love and guitar to one who is stolen away moment to moment due to a disease like Alzheimer’s. Closing out the record with “My Dreams Have All Come True” as the night cap, White makes a statement to listeners. The simple melody seems the perfect ending to a record whose songs were tied to greats like Roy Orbison and Chet Atkins with a songwriting thread. John Paul White’s The Hurting Kind is that record you may have been missing but didn’t even know it yet.–Lisa Whealy