Published May 27, 2014At just 26 years old, John Fullbright already has the weary, well-travelled voice of a man twice his age. An Americana wunderkind, Fullbright's 2012 debut studio record was album of the year for many fans of roots music. That little Kickstarter-funded album by an unknown kid on a homespun Oklahoma label even, astoundingly, earned him a Grammy nomination alongside the likes of Mumford and Sons and Bonnie Raitt. It was a hell of a story, and it had many of us wondering what he'd do with the sophomore record now that all eyes were on him. Would he go big, hire a superstar producer, get himself a horn section and a choir? Most people would. But, it turns out, not John Fullbright.
From its flat, matter-of-fact title and its bleakly black and white cover photo, through its 12 sparsely produced numbers, Songs shies away from the spotlight, dispenses with pretence. Though surely Fullbright was offered any number of record deals after the extraordinary success of his debut, Songs is still on teeny Blue Dirt Records, not Universal (or even Bloodshot!). "All it takes is getting used to getting lost", he sings on "When You're Here" (an album standout that recalls early 70s Elton John), and you get the sense that Fullbright has taken this as a sort of mantra as he slipped down the rabbit hole of overnight success. The whole record is, in some way, a meditation on this problem, on getting used to instability and confusion. Consider the terrific song "Happy," a straight up defense of good feelings, sung by a guy whose voice conveys great depths of melancholy. Even his whistling over the instrumental section is as sad and lonesome as a train in the distance.
For the most part, the songs on this record are excellent and the spare, intimate performances are magnetic. "Truth be told, the odds are stacked against us," Fullbright sings on "The One That Lives Too Far," a stunner of a sing-a-long ballad, and the best song on the album; "truth be told, they often always are." Maybe so, but this guy makes his own luck. (Blue Dirt Records)