Friend of the blog and former frontman of The Parlor Soldiers, Alex Culbreth, has a new band, a new album, and a new sound. From the ashes of the minimalist rootsy sound of The Parlor Soldiers, we’re treated to the full band, roots rock, Americana sound of Alex Culbreth and the Dead Country Stars. The 13 songs on Heart in a Mason Jar show a great grasp of personal style, a wisdom of song choice, and flexibility within the genre.
The difference between Culbreth’s former sound and his new sound is twofold. First, through many years of playing, Culbreth certainly has a confidence that we didn’t see in The Parlor Soldiers that manifests itself in his voice and his songwriting. He’s shown that he can write the kind of songs that make you feel and seem to be more than just stories. Second, the Dead Country Stars, Eddie Dickerson, Jimbo Carrico, Joanna Smith, Ryan Hale, Jenna Kole and Rachel Childress, add a depth of sound that takes this album from the would-be lonely sounds of a singer songwriter to the fully intended, rich roots sound. The addition of the full drums, the violin and piano makes this album that much better.
“Heart in a Mason Jar” is the first song on the album and it’s the perfect way to start. It’s an upbeat song about a destructive relationship and the ramifications of that. It’s sung in Culbreth’s typically emotional voice, lending it a more personal edge. The chorus, “She keep my heart in a Mason jar,/ filled it with whiskey at the Lonestar bar,/ formaldehyde and cheap cigars” paired with the music is a near perfect verse. “Where Will My Troubles Go?” is a song about heartache and revenge. Banjos and fiddles play overtop of words about using an ex’s sister as a means of revenge, which fits the style and the tone of the song perfectly.
Culbreth’s songwriting hits a high and fun note in “Mercy Me”, a song that’s like a blues/rap song, that has Culbreth singing lyrics very quickly and painting a picture of a young man starting a career as a musician. “And good goddamn I was sure impressed,/ That this old six-string could have such an effect,/ Like a woman in the backseat of my Trans Am,/ I popped the clutch a few times but she made this boy a man.” With lyrics like these and songs like “Let’s Send the Politicians Off to War”, a brilliantly written, scathing indictment of the modern way that war is wagged (“Let’s send the politicians off to war,/ To fight for what younger man have been dying for./ They all don’t know shit, they’ll be the first to fill their drawers./ Let’s send the politicians off to war.”), this album has a depth that most don’t.
To go even deeper, Heart in a Mason Jar includes a few slower, more melodic songs that perfectly compliment those mentioned above. “I’m Going to Nashville” may be the album’s best song, a song about loneliness and big dreams. It’s an intensely personal song and one of the best of the year. “Daisy” tells the story of a patient in a psych ward and how important his friend Daisy is to him when he’s there. It tells of the struggles of mental illness and seems to capture the rationality of irrational decisions in a heartbreaking way. “God, I wish you could see me now,/ So I’m gonna flush the pills once they send me home,/ I’m gonna flush the pills, Daisy, I’ll see you soon.”
Heart in a Mason Jar is a huge step forward for Alex Culbreth and a genuinely fantastic album. Whether you like fiddles, songwriting, emotional lyricism, or just bluesy rock, this album will have something for you. Check back in the coming weeks for more on Alex Culbreth and the Dead Country Stars and head to their website to pick up your copy.