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Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know strikes a deeply heartfelt chord

I don’t think that I am very different from most of you that fall, heart and soul, into life’s sonic escape hatch. Music is transcendent. Like a New Orleans funeral procession celebration marching in the North Carolina backwoods, Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know is one of the most heartfelt records I’ve heard in decades.

Weighty statement, right? Beginning recording work in 2019, life’s personal tragedies stopped production. The pandemic turned the world upside down. An album like this connects us all, erasing our differences by sliding rhythms into toe tapping agreements. Our shared experiences over the past few years resonate with each guitar note given the space to breathe. This release, on Royal Potato Family, is pure artistry.

Walker’s 11th studio recording and collaboration with longtime producer Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) seems to defy the cultural and personal chaos that helped define this music. Seven originals and three covers weave a rich, textured palette to match the silky-smooth vocal tone Walker delivers with each note. Walker struts in with the bluesy soul cool of opener “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,” which feels like a fight song concerning the decimation many of us felt over the past few years.

I must confess, “Why Do I Cry Anymore” feels like every emotion that pretends to act as a shield against the flood of grief. Lyrically straightforward and musically uncluttered, its power rests in the space between vocals and the production. Walker flows  into the uplifting “I Hope I Know,” showing its role as the connective tissue of the record. Lush, spacious instrumentation wraps around stand up bass. The foundational concept of moving forward finds solid ground to blossom and grow. “Remember Me” alludes to connections disrupted but hanging on. Brilliant instrumentation at 2:19 feels like film noir; stepping out into a smoke-filled jazz club with piano, sax and flute joining the serenade. Amazing! 

“Satisfy My Mind” is a gritty homage to humanity’s desire to strive towards something more. Soulful, dark and haunting, it reminds me that music finds ways to connect us spiritually. Since 2019’s Are You Open? changed Walker’s personal and professional life, “Tennessee Blues” seems a perfect fit when making sense of where life takes us. Van Morrison’s “Warm Love” seems like a defiant return to the joy of life, capturing throwback vibes. 

“River” offers a dark, hellish blues celebration, followed by the quick hit “Buckets of Rain.” “Buckets of Rain” brings to mind every flood experienced from Katrina to today. We go on, despite insurmountable odds. This album is stunningly sequenced: we can rest in Walker’s final song “Peace in the Valley,” with its simple instrumentation and peaceful vocals. 

Grief, resilience, and hope are what singing the blues and all that jazz is about. On Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know, he bared his soul, too. —Lisa Whealy