This world seems increasingly complicated, right? Why don’t you stop and sit for a while? Why don’t you listen to Are You Open? by Seth Walker, who’s inviting you in for some meaningful, authentic, heartfelt conversation? Full of vibe and truly genreless, this gem produced by The Wood Brothers’ drummer Jano Rix dropped February 13 on Royal Potato Family.
Listeners may wonder what impact the success of Walker’s critically acclaimed 2016 released Gotta Get Back had on the artist. The prophetic opener “Giving it All Away” sees heavy bass groove drive in to a percussive keyboard-laden groove, letting the listener realize that exploring new sounds and styles on Gotta Get Back created an ability to be truly open to the possibilities of creation on this new record.
This tenth studio album from Walker features a deepening appreciation and connection not just to sounds, but to the human spirit. Embracing what it means to be truly open in all ways, the songwriter embraces his soul with brilliance. Listening to “No More Will I” feels like a Pied Piper’s call to unite as the lead single on this collection of blues-infused music. “Inside” and “All I Need to Know” prove through completely contrasting stylistic choices that there is one concept we all share: regardless of it all, we are human beings.
There are few songs that call out truth so honestly like “Are You Open?” Sweet, tentative, and hopeful, this resonates with acoustic guitar and vulnerability. Are we sitting around a campfire on a starry North Carolina night, pedal steel guitar echoing into the night along with Walker’s vocals? “Something to Hold” is the story of life in my opinion. Only by letting go is there any way of finding out what is really meaningful in your life. Yeah, it may feel trite, but damn it is real. This troubadour has earned his place the Great American Songbook.
African and Latin textures infused in the music bring to mind the work of Paul Simon on his groundbreaking Graceland. “Hard Road” has diamonds on the souls of the shoes that are walking that hard road, consciously or unconsciously channeling rhythmic genius. The essence of the joy Simon captured with steel drums and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s work has been reincarnated here for new generations to breathe in with each note. Easy, strolling beats coupled with an upbeat musicality juxtapose against lyrics which suggest that the best achievements in life are challenging. We all participate in life. Not everyone gets a trophy, but we can help others along in this human race. The blues-guitar driven “No Bird” soars with imagery. Yes, Walker has defined himself here.
Production choices and sequencing of this record add to the rich textures of the material; vibrant and alive, each song stands alone but supports each other like a loving family of musical thoughts. Is it the influence of Rix, with his life of New Orleans influences blended with Havana and Nashville? I like to think that we get to hear the results of all that beautiful juicy blender of gifts mixed into a spirited melody. This record is the best fresh ear candy I have heard so far this year.
Shifting from quick hits like “Underdog” and its throwdown jazzy aesthetic to close out the record with the soulful, acoustic “Magnolia,” one fact is certain. Even if there was no intention of writing a concept album, the universe is usually in charge of what comes out when artist opens his soul. Listening to Are You Open? by Seth Walker is like breathing an essence of honeysuckle rose on the breeze that’s carrying the rich resonance of Walker’s vocal delivery with birds and accordion as accompaniment.–Lisa Whealy