Despite the crude and scary cover this is an album of refined old school roots music that takes our divided world as its principle theme. After more than 30 years in music, this Nashville-based artist (originally from Rhode Island) is well placed to comment on the rise of inequality and intolerance in America right now; a situation that impacts most negatively on minority groups.
“I wanted to explore the idea of walls” says Olney and in particular he poses the question “What does it mean to be an immigrant who comes upon that wall as a wanderer, someone lost and alone?”
The song Always The Stranger identifies the singer-songwriter as an outsider and as something of a wanderer and loner. This enables him to empathize with migrant souls trying to fight the odds. In Stand Tall he urges them to keep the faith as they struggle to preserve their dignity and a modicum of freedom. Other tracks like Wall and I Spyaddress issues of border controls and heavy surveillance.
The album was produced by Steve Dawson who also plays guitar on Death Will Not Divide Us. The other musicians are Charlie McCoy, The McCrary Sisters, Fats Kaplin, Anne McCue and Olney’s regular band: Daniel Seymour on bass, Ward Stout on fiddle and Justin Amaral on drums.
Despite his laudable social commitment, from a musical perspective it is Olney's tender love songs that pack a stronger emotional punch. The title track in particular is very affecting and, thanks to his soft, vulnerable vocals, the heartstrings are also expertly tugged on Open Your Heart (And Let Me In).
The most atypical track is She's Not There a fairly laboured version of The Zombies’ 1965 pop classic that isn't a patch on the original. This stands out as an oddity in a collection of original tunes that are high on authenticity but never truly memorable.