From the first time we heard Evan Bartels in 2017, we knew he’d be a steady character on our website. It’s not hard to hear why, either. His gritty folk style is something that stands out in this modern music age. Without the frills of so many other artists, Bartels packs a powerful punch of authenticity.
The opening track on Promised Land is “Drugs.” Thematically, as you might imagine, it’s a song about substances and dependence. But at the same time it’s a song about belonging. It’s about doing what we feel we must to try to feel comfortable around other people. I love the sense of longing in Bartels’ lyrics as well as his vocal style. It’s about striving and struggling in the best way possible. He reminds me of an amazing alchemy of Noah Gundersen and David Ramirez. “We worship the true God and they say we’re his children but I had heard he killed his only son.” Whew. Okay maybe it’s not just about doing drugs… It might even be a love song.
The following “Wild” reminds me a Dylan tune from his mid career years. It’s got a nice rolling melody to it. The overall confessional lyrics are typical of Bartels, “the thought of who I could be and who I am.” It really sounds like a song that’s about figuring out who you are. I like the folk rock vibe of the track, especially with the subtlety of the electric guitar that creates some space between each thought provoking line.
This track “In my time” makes Bartels sound like he’s about 20 years older than he is. Gritty, raw, emotional, and as down to earth as possible, Bartels tells some “old familiar stories.” There’s an evident love of friends and neighbors. It’s a fascinating play on the sense of time and just how limited our time on earth really is. There’s a prayerful expression on the bridge that is some of the most theologically interesting writing I’ve heard in years. It’s not neat and tidy, but it’s pretty close to church if you ask me.
“She being brand new” is Americana in the Isbell vein. It’s got some fascinating connections from snippets in the main character’s life. It’s part poem, part folk song, and a genuine reflection of what it means to be rooted. The final track “A Thousand Times” goes in a similar direction sonically, allowing the acoustic guitar and Bartels’ lead vocal to take center stage. The listener is reminded on this one just how distinctive Bartels is in his writing style. In a world that feels utterly fractured, it’s nice to hear someone sing with such grounded hope in their voice.
The entire album contains thoughtful lyrics. This is what folk music should be in my mind, honestly. Each song carries weight and conveys something true and engaging. I don’t know that these songs hit me with the same power as his song “Tattoo” did on his last album, but that’s more personal preference than a critique of this album. In fact, arguably “Drugs” is a better song in terms of total depth and complexity. This is definitely an album worth your time, especially if you regularly appreciate the music that we support here on EarToTheGround.