Album Review: John John Brown – The Road
John John Brown is as talented a songwriter as we’ve found in 2016. This album, The Road, is an absolute stunner from start to finish. It’s not every day that you’ll find someone with the kind of control, sense of melody, and beautiful purpose behind his songwriting. The rich depth to Brown’s vocal is highlighted by light tones from strings that pop and bristle along the top of each track. The existential, “I hope there’s a meaning to it all” needles through the entire album, keeping us all asking along while we sing along to the brilliant album.
The opening title track “The Road” gives a sense of questions and purpose. But the harmonica, strings, and vocals all connect perfectly. As much credit should go to the production team as to Brown himself. Rarely does such a busy folk song feel so genuinely balanced. The slower “Heartshine” featuring Laney Jones is more my speed, featuring the kind of high lonesome fiddles that hearken back to my ancestry. The depth of the guitar’s bass notes and Brown’s vocal dances in perfect step with Jones’s soprano. As it all comes together with poetic lyrics, the fiddle and picking still manage to steal the show – but let me tell you, it’s a beautiful show across the board.
Something about “Dust and Bones” just feels right to me. It’s a folk song for sure, but the upbeat rhythm makes it feel a bit more more complicated. The lyrics remind me a little of a mix of today’s Jeffrey Martin and yesteryear’s Simon and Garfunkel. It’s social commentary and disconcerting, but still intriguing. “On Our Own Again” brings Laney Jones back for another song, and she shines on this one. Providing an additional layer to the vocal, a much-needed high harmony, Jones accents the depths of Brown’s baritone nicely. The song tells a long, heart wrenching story that will put you in mind of someone like George Jones.
“Pull on Through” is an inspiring song full of energy and layered sounds. The acoustic guitar sounds great on this one. The upbeat rhythm again pushes the limits of the genre into a challenging and driving anthemic song. At the end of the day, though, it’s an encouragement to keep going despite difficult circumstances. “Live My Life for You” seems to carry a bit of a spiritual significance to it. There’s imagery of a dream, of personal purpose, and ultimately figuring out how we’re supposed to live and love in this life. It’s nicely put together, using the breadth of Brown’s baritone.
The final track “When I Die” feels a bit morbid, but the guitar work on it might be my favorite of the entire album. The opening is really stripped down and I’d appreciate a full album with that sound. But the way that Brown falls into his lower register that feels both comfortable and really familiar, yet I can’t put a name to who that sounds like. Brown really has a gift, though, and this “final chapter” on the album is appropriate. It really allows the album to “fade away.”
Fans of folk music will really enjoy John John Brown. He’s a true songwriter and the performance on the album is top quality. It’s a true delight and will contend for album of the year for me.