Gill Landry had it all – he was in the Old Crow Medicine Show, had just won his second Grammy with that band, and moreover he was in love – not just in love but all set to be married. Feeling a need to move on musically he decided to go solo, recorded an album and hit the road with it. And then the bottom fell out of his world – the girl left, heartache moved in and seemed to have settled down to stay. The songs on this new album reflect this turn of fortune’s wheel – and also acted as a form of therapy for those bruised emotions. It’s an open question as to the title’s meaning – Landry has suggested that he’s alluding to an unexpected winner that comes out of nowhere, it’s worth recalling thought that the third horseman of the apocalypse, Famine, rode a dark horse. Thus a famine of love – well, there’s more than a hint of that in the songs themselves.
For all that it tells of a harsh goodbye the first track up, Denver Girls, sets an epic tone for the album – with dark mournful chords, and a grandiose retelling of a betrayal, it’s akin to Lee Hazlewood at his best, right down to Gill Landry’s growl of a baritone. A more down to earth telling of the tale comes drenched in pedal steel on the slow and aching Broken Hearts & Things We’ll Never Know. In a filmic narration boy meets girl in a bar and, well, “you may have seen this one before / It starts with a hello / It ends with broken hearts and things we’ll never know”. It’s a song that captures a dark light that illumines a pain that seems like the end of the world, full of honest feelings it is a hard earned bruise that’s painfully beautiful. There’s a sense of an acceptance in The Only Game in Town, albeit an acceptance that love is a chimera and that the game of love is just a fools gamble. It’s a song that’s infused with a wary cynicism: “We just met / I appreciate the enthusiasm / but don’t fall in love just yet”.
There’s no shortage of Americana albums that draw inspiration from a failed love affair, the girl who didn’t turn out to be the one despite all the signs to the contrary. Many involve heading off to a cabin to write and record – and yes Gill Landry did do that too. Most such albums though feel like the desired end product – the singer had just enough heartache to get material for a half-dozen decent songs. Not Gill Landry – and not Love rides a Dark Horse. The music is too good, too mature, and the pain feels too bad, too hard to deal with. Love Rides a Dark Horse is a fitting tribute to something that clearly meant a lot to its creator – and because of this it’ll mean a lot to the attuned listener. Hell – it’s a great album for a broken heart.