2012 saw Goodnight, Texas take home my Album of the Year with A Long Life of Living. Back then, I wrote that “A Long Life of Living is a shining example of how to mix vocals and music, cartharsis and intimate personal stories, tradition and modernity in a genre that rarely sees both.” Well, the good news is that this year’s Uncle John Farquhar takes what made the first album so great and refines it, creating something the likes of which we haven’t seen here yet.
Uncle John Farquhar is three things. First, this album is a history lesson. It’s based largely on story from across the South and set primarily during the Civil War. It’s a soundtrack to the class Dr. Cuff taught in my senior year of college, or at least it feels that way. Second, this album is a brilliantly written, nearly haunting set of songs that use music and lyrics to create a feeling both historic and personal. Lastly, Uncle John Farquhar is a masterclass in Americana music. The way that these gentlemen create layers and layers of music and showcase their abilities on mandolin, banjo, steel pedal guitar, drums, and upright bass is absolutely phenomenal.
The album begins with a nice little instrumental, “Hayride”, and then immediately goes into a funky little song called “Button Your Collar”, one that sounds like it would have been right at home on that first album. “Get dressed, button your collar,/ Call every one that you know./ Round up every dollar,/ ‘Cause if you stay, nobody’s going to go.” It perfectly sets up the rest of the album. Next is “The Bank Robber’s Nursery Rhyme”, a banjo heavy love song about a bank robber. It’s sort of like the Bonnie and Clyde of folk songs, it starts slow then it builds, throwing some slide guitar and building steam. “You can have my heart if I can have your hand./ I can make your daddy understand.” It’s stealing money and stealing hearts.
The album also has some more mellow songs, as the band continues to show that they know all about folk and americana music. “I Just Can’t Stop Leaving Town” is very reminiscent of the feel of things like the Gold Rush and the rush to war in the years leading up to the Civil War. It’s an effective piece of historical song writing. “Many Miles From Blacksburg” is a mandolin led predominantly vocal song that shows the heartache and sorrow that went along with that time in history. Perhaps the most brilliantly written and poignant song is “Dearest Sarah”, a song based on a letter from the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.
“The Horse Accident”, “Ballad of a Fair Young Lady” and “Hello Nebraska” shows what Goodnight, Texas is best at, getting you to want to move and showing you what musically complex, upbeat folk music can really be like. Each of these songs has a real musical flair, using different instruments as centerpieces and doing each nearly flawlessly. The title track, “Uncle John Farquhar”, a song about a man working in the Pittsburgh steel mills, shows a blue collar attitude and fight that is still prevalent in this part of the country. “Same old screen door that the dog scratched through,/ Same old wood floor underneath my shoe,/ Same old woman making chicken every night,/ I guess I did alright.”
This album is another nearly perfect album from an album that knows what they do, how to do it, and how to continue to get better. While Goodnight, Texas is not a bad that will appeal to everyone, if you have any affinity from beautiful folk music, history, or songwriting, this band is one for you. Uncle John Farquhar is a masterclass in folk music, one that shows 4 gentlemen at the absolute top of their game, and we’re all lucky to have a chance to experience it.