Album Review: Rusty Clanton – Big Bear, Little Bear EP

Readers of EarToTheGround already know the name of Rusty Clanton, one of the premiere independent singer songwriters making music today. The Nashville-based artist is the epitome of “no country for new Nashville,” bringing out pop sounds that bounce from old tyme to modern alt conventions. This EP Big Bear, Little Bear does not disappoint when it comes to cutting new melody lines, creating deeper emotion-driven music that’s sure to find that one memory that just leaves you crying or smiling.

“Oh Isabella” begins the album with an intricate duet. The electric guitar lines are a sort of faux lo-fi sensibility, making you feel like they’re just casual even though they are quite carefully laid out. The harmonies on the chorus come across as prayerfully honest, yet deeply moving.

Fans of Rusty’s exceptional YouTube channel have already heard the lead single “Dirty Words.” In fact, we featured the song here on ETTG as well. It’s got a sneaky little 80s vibe to it, feeling cool and detached like a gen-ex ex-lover. But at the same time if you listen to the song once, you are 100% guaranteed to “oohhh” along with it. It’s kind of a dark pop style, but I adore it.

“If You’re a Ghost” has an unconventional rhythm. It’s definitely not typical of some of Clanton’s earlier work, but it is an intriguing track. The layered vocals (recording over himself) makes for a unique aesthetic. While it’s not as melodic as some of the other tracks, I do appreciate the avant garde element here.

Now “Married in the Morning” is not only my favorite song on this album, it’s one of my favorite songs that Clanton has ever written. I listen to the YouTube version of this track probably once per week. It has a sweet sentiment to it. The way the acoustic guitar rises and falls with the melody just does something to me. The carefully, poetically delivered “we were married in the morning” line just never gets old. I think it reminds me of someone telling a story about an old romance… with a beautiful, even playful nonchalance.

Something about “I hope it’s you” reminds me of Rayland Baxter and I mean that as a sincere compliment. The song has a boldness to it that we don’t always hear from Clanton. It feels a bit like a declaration or a mission statement. That line “tell me what my future holds” is so exceptional; anyone who has ever looked with hopefulness toward a potential new relationship has felt this. Great songwriting!

The penultimate track “Comfort” is another gem of melody and subtleness. Again you’ll hear some sort of TV or radio in the background. Since it comes through on several songs, apparently Clanton wants it there. I think it goes with the lo-fi vibe of the entire album. It’s a bit of a hopelessly romantic track and it works with the style. It’s unironically endearing.

The last song “False Start” is a perfect snapshot of Clanton’s songwriting right now, I think. It gives me chills and is one of the best tracks on the album. It shows a developed sense of melody that doesn’t just mimic others, but advances Clanton’s own style with unprecedented strides. One can hear his characteristic combination of thoughtful lyrics and dead-honest delivery. The listener gets the sense that Clanton isn’t “singing this song” so much as stating an artistic truth about the way he sees things. To me, this track puts Clanton in the company of artists like Yesper and The Tallest Man on Earth when it comes to weaving together abstract folk music with modern electronic elements for something that, frankly, we just don’t hear anywhere else.

What I love about his style is the “just chillin with Rusty in his bedroom drinking coffee and singing about lost loves.” I mean, really, that’s what this album conveys for me. It’s one of the most honest, artistic albums I’ve heard to date in 2018. I look forward to Rusty Clanton’s work on his YouTube page and I’m extremely glad to hear this album from him. It’ll be on rotation for me for the forseeable future. Oh and if you go check him out, tell him Greg at ETTG sent you.

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