Blue Dirt Records
John Fullbright’s songs work so well due to understatement – and honesty. That’s even announced, in an honest and understated way with the title this time – Songs. Simple. And yet you could spend days inside any one of the compositions on this album. So not all that simple upon close inspection. Just piano and guitar, for the most part, and his voice. A wee hack at the harmonica here and there, sometimes some gentle accompaniment from a handful of other instruments, but there’s no big band sound to this; for the most part it’s hushed and introspective. And what a set of songs.
It’s Jackson Browne-esque one minute (Until You Were Gone) and then he’s reminding you that there was once a time when Don McLean was influential (Write A Song). But Fullbright’s version of the singer/songwriter takes from modern tropes too – his The One That Lives Too Far could have nestled in nicely on John Murry’s startling debut. And the big narrative ballad of this album, High Road, rubs shoulders with Jason Isbell’s finest work, takes a little from the early, audacious Ryan Adams.
It’s the fact that Fullbright feels – already – to have extended his simple role on over to that transcendent state; he’s not just a singer/songwriter, he’s very much a next generation Guy Clark or – yes – Townes Van Zandt. Where Beck dresses up for the role (and, to be fair, pretty much nails it) you just know this is no act; it’s that difference between actor and artist, author and auteur. Fullbright doesn’t just sound like the real deal – he is. He lives and breathes it. From the rustic take on early Steve Earle styles (Going Home) to the gorgeous Graham Nash-like stateliness of the melody to When You’re Here, from the James Taylor-like intro and gentle guitar-lapping of Keeping Hope Alive through to the devastating All That You Know – any track on here the new best song you’ve heard – it’s one perfect composition after another.
For an artist so young, so young in his career this is all the more remarkable. Songs feels like it’s already been here forever; feels like so many other songwriters’ career-encompassing compilations.