It was a relatively warm early November evening (Nov. 12) when the Cardinal Cafe started to fill with people in anticipation of Elphin resident Joey Wright’s CD release concert. The ambiance was set by the lovely candle-lit room, which made the atmosphere of the renovated church/cafe even more warm and relaxed.
Joey’s new album is called Country Music and on that night, except for a couple of tunes from his earlier albums, and two of Jenny Whiteley’s, he played mostly from it. Wright’s last solo album ‘Hatch’ was a break with tradition from his first two, which were mostly fast paced blue/new grass instrumental records. In Country Music, this departure continues. In fact, the only instrumental tracks on this album are two quite beautiful Interludes, that only last a few seconds. The rest have lyrics, written by Joey with the exception of a wonderfully slowed down version of Bob Wills’ Faded Love.
The title track of the album, Country Music, has the familiarity of a rich old country song from an era gone by, so much so, that at first I mistook it for a cover version of an older country song. In fact, it was jointly penned by Wright and Jenny Whiteley, Joey’s partner in love and in life. Jenny joined him on stage, as did Dean Stone, Julian Brown and Mike Eckert.
There are a couple of pop sounding tunes on the album, including Nostalgia, and Black Hole. The first song on the record, Black Hole, like many of Joey’s songs, is open to interpretation. For me, within the chorus, there lies a metaphor for life, ‘I’m losing control, I can’t escape the gravity of this black hole’. I see the black hole as being the inevitability of our mortality. It is a given, it comes with being born; death is inescapable. I love that the music is so upbeat in this song despite the grave message. I also love that this is what I get from the song, where someone else may get another meaning, perhaps neither of us the one that was intended by Wright.
The second song on the album Eyes Looking Out, was the first Joey played at the concert, and he relayed how it was inspired by his grandfather who was a gunner in WWII. This song hearkens back to the dreamy tone of Hatch. The back up vocals on this song and many of the others are provided by Amy Millan and Jenny Whiteley. They are beautiful and ephemeral and sound sometimes like a whisper or an echo, and definitely add much in the way of texture to the music. They work perfectly with Joey’s rich, warm voice.
The synthesizers add texture as well, as do the horns, lap-steel, guitar and drums. Mountain Grove’s Jonas Bonetta co-produced and played synthesizer on this album, to good effect. The songs have a cohesion to one another and this glue is in good part due to the consistency of the vocals, instrumentation, (including the shimmering light touch of Wright’s mandolin and guitar), spare drumming and slow tempo. It is not at all over-produced; it is just right.
It is not only the sound and feel of this album which stand out, but also the tempo. Most of the tunes have a slowed pace or beat. They have rhythm alright, just everything seems slowed down. The over-all effect that this has on the listener, is that it seems to help calm the heart rate and remind one to breathe. This notion is punctuated by the second to last song on the record called, Time Stands Still, in which it almost seems that Wright slows time to a halt … at least for a second.
The song Meteor also stands out, not only for it’s fine rhythms, but because of the way it tells a story of a love or friendship losing its lustre, ‘making a stone out of a gem’, while looking through a rear view mirror of sorts ... ‘the sky is getting clearer, I’m looking back in time and leaving a trail behind’.
Our Love Moved Out to the Country is a love song that also plays like a story book. It’s simple and honest, saying that ‘love is the essence of the soul/pure as the tears of a child/you make me want grow old/you’re still going to drive me wild’. And, ‘when we talk I feel better/this mean old world turns into joy/my thoughts turn into love letters/I feel like a teenage boy’. We all might like to hear these emotions from our loved one.
Looking back in time, and grappling with memories figure thematically in many of these songs. In Nostalgia the chorus begins ‘I’m going down/where memories can always be found’. And, in Jodi, the lyric, ‘How can I be set free from memories/I’m stuck in memories’ ends the song. This, the last track of the album, has become one of my favourites. On Jodi, the piano and vocal hold such emotion. It draws you in to its world, and when it ends, I am, like the crowd on that evening at the end of the concert, left longing for more.
Joey Wright’s words paint pictures and tell stories. His music is original, and calms the soul. His own particular style is emerging, and I can’t wait to hear what he does next.