Continuing with my early 2013 theme of “albums that belonged on my best of 2012 list”, John Fullbright’s From The Ground Up is a sterling example of a singer-songwriter being more than that, an album that transcends what one man can typically do. From the brilliant songwriting to the incredible musicianship, Fullbright has created a sound and an album that is a modern day folk classic.
From The Ground Up is made up of three types of songs. First, there are the songs that focus on songwriting and use the acoustic guitar to accompany the vocals and lyrics. These songs are up there with Dawes and The Tallest Man on Earth in terms of songwriting. “Jericho” is a prime example of the songwriting style of Fullbright, using common religious stories to tell his own stories. In this case, the story of breaking down the walls of Jericho with trumpets and singing is related to the walls around someone’s heart. “Throw your arrows and your slings,/ And your other precious things./ Outside your gate I will stand tall,/ As you cower behind your wall./ Look inside yourself to see,/ Where these walls appear to be./ Let your soul step out to breathe,/ Swallow whole your dignity.” Another great example is “Satan and Saint Paul”, a song about feeling stuck in a negative pattern and in a negative place, “the corner of Satan and Saint Paul”. This song feels much more like a personal confession with lyrics like “And my cup it runneth over./ And it runs down in my eyes./ Maybe when I’m a little older,/ I won’t tell myself so many lies.” Fullbright clearly has a way with words. “Fatman” is perhaps the most excellently written song on this album, but I’ll let it speak for itself.
Fullbright also excels at the more upbeat, blues rock style songs. The album’s first track is a great track written from the perspective of God (“I made the heaven and earth, I made the stars above./ Is it too much to ask for a little love?”) On top of the great electric guitar and harmonica, the emotion in Fullbright’s voice really takes these songs to a new level. “All the Time in the World” is an optimistic song, one that sings of a lack of direction (or plethora of directions) and a lack of concern because he’s got “all the time in the world”. The harmonica in this song is transcendant. If you enjoy harmonica, you’ll thank me. “Moving” is another gem, a bluesy song that’s anything but the blues. It’s a song about the future and, no matter what direction we’re going, we’re moving. In between harmonica solos, Fullbright belts, “See that everyday we’re breathing is a day we’ve won.”
Perhaps Fullbright’s most impressive style is when he sits at a piano as if it were a confessional. “I Only Pray at Night” shows Fullbright admitting to his faults, telling the listener that he understands if you don’t care, but this is him. “I only fly so high, I only try so hard, I only pray at night.” While that song is a confession, “Nowhere To Be Found” is heartbreak. If you ever looked for a song that simply is heartbreak, this is it. All about wasted chances and mistakes made, when Fullbright sings “I threw away a chance like you,/ Now you’re nowhere to be found”, it’s hard not to cry along with him.
From The Ground Up ends on a high note with “Song for a Child”, a poetic, beautifully played piano tune that could (should) be the first song that every child hears. It’s a perfect song, reminiscent of “Charlie” by The Milk Carton Kids, but deeper. John Fullbright has launched himself into the spotlight with this album. From now on, it’ll be difficult to ignore the quality and ingenuity behind the music from this Oklahoman. From The Ground Up deserved to be towards, if not at, the top of the “Best of 2012” list and deserves to be in the hands of every music lover.