Album Review: Gill Landry – Love Rides a Dark Horse

By on Wednesday, 4th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Gill Landry LRADH coverWe at TGTF encountered American folk singer/songwriter Gill Landry earlier this year when he played support for alt-folk duo Bear’s Den. At the time, I was unaware of Landry’s credentials as part of bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show, with whom he won two Grammy awards. Landry has since left the group to focus on his solo work, which includes three previous LPs and a brand new album, titled ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’.

Landry himself has written an extensive press release for ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, which provides unique insight into the inspiration behind this collection of songs. Landry says he found himself at a difficult crossroads, as his departure from Old Crow coincided with the end of a long-term romance. “The future was looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death,” he explains, “but I wanted to find a light in the darkness. This album is more of a map out of the darkness than an invitation to it.”

The record is concise and tightly woven in its narrative, but its individual songs unfold slowly and deliberately, brimming with sentimentality and heartbreak. Landry avoids becoming entirely maudlin with a generous dose of dry humour in his lyrics and richly expressive instrumental gestures in otherwise straightforward folk rock arrangements. Early single ‘Denver Girls’ takes advantage of Landry’s deep baritone vocal timbre, setting a shadowy tone around the question “if it’s not paradise now, tell me what you’re waiting for / don’t you know, there is no evermore?”

Landry has enlisted a full cadre of collaborators on this album, including female singers Karen Elson and Odessa,, who contribute tangibly to the overall colour of the songs. The refrain of impressive recent single ‘Berlin’ features particularly effective backing harmonies from Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit, but Landry’s own velvety delivery in the line “after all you put me through, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s you” makes the strongest emotional impact.

Jaded tales of failed romance dominate the body of the tracklisting, most notably slow-burning ballads ‘Broken Hearts’ and ‘Scripted Love’. Landry describes the latter as the centerpiece of the album, as it “reveal(s) characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed”. These tender tracks are balanced by the stronger tempo and pervasive brass in ‘The One Who Won the War’, where he sings of “defeated expectations hiding in your pain / like every hopeful dreamer you left screaming in the rain”.

A scattering of lighter moments keeps the album from being altogether grim. Strategically placed in the middle of the sequence, ‘The Only Game in Town’ opens with a gently cynical rejoinder: “we just met / I appreciate your enthusiasm, but don’t fall in love just yet”. Nearer to the end of the album, ‘The Woman I Love’ is both romantic and shrewdly genuine as its protagonist’s lover whispers “get me the fuck out of here” ahead of the song’s deftly harmonised chorus. The album finishes with a pensive moment in the instrumental intro to ‘The Real Deal Died’, which though soft-spoken is biting in its editorial commentary. The song’s mournful lyrics lament the superficiality of the music industry and the loss of true artistry in the ubiquitous quest for commercial success.

Landry unquestionably meets his own high standards of artistry and authenticity with ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. The record is a beautiful combination of evocative storytelling and aural cinematography, with subtly graceful instrumental elements and Landry’s exquisite baritone hitting their emotional targets throughout. Emerging from the darkness of professional and romantic disillusionment, Gill Landry has created a triumphant album that singularly fits his definition of “dark horse” – “a candidate or competitor about whom little is known, but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”

9/10

Gill Landry’s fourth solo album ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’ is due out on Friday the 6th of October via ATO (U.S.) / Loose Music (UK). Landry will be on tour for the remainder of 2017, supporting Rising Appalachia on the American West Coast before heading to the UK in November with Ian Felice. December will find Landry back in California, Oregon and Washington with Valerie June. A full list of Landry’s live dates can be found on his official Facebook.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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