It would be an easy assumption to hear Olney’s latest, This Side Or The Other, as a commentary on the current state of America. Particularly with his references to walls, refugees and borders amongst lyrics that ask “When did we begin to live in shadow?/We don’t even trust each other now.” Or to hear “Whoever rules the elements/Has surely gone insane” as a metaphor, to which he responds, “I won’t let their kind drag me down.”
Who are “their kind” and who exactly comprise The Other is never made clear, as such equivocation is fairly standard for Olney. His forte is to lay open a subject as seen through the eyes of others and in so doing explore difference and let the listener take their own standpoint.
His weakest moment comes when he strays from such third-party narratives to sing the simple love song “Open Your Heart (And Let Me In)”. It’s schmaltzy tone is at odds with the energy he brings elsewhere as on “Stand Tall” when his protagonist calls on his fellow troubadours to “Keep it on the road and play it right”. Much as he has done for the last thirty years.