Collaboration is the key.
Back in 2018 we reviewed an album called “Restoration”, in which a bunch of Americana artists got to “re-imagine” a number of Elton John songs, and this album is slightly reminiscent of that. Now, it’s important to say that there’s nothing about John Fullbright’s songs that makes them sound like Elton John’s – it’s more about an Americana sound on songs written for piano. Traditionally, there’s more of an association of stringed instruments with that classic americana sound and what this album does, extremely well, is show that very good americana music can be generated from a piano base.
Of course, John Fullbright knows a bit about good americana, having started out in that excellent Oklahoma band, the Turnpike Troubadours, and received a Grammy nomination for his first solo album, 2012’s “From The Ground Up”. He followed that up with 2014’s “Songs”, another critically acclaimed album and, that same year, he received the Rising Star award from the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Now, here we are eight years later and you might wonder what he’s been doing with those “lost” years. Well, judging by this album he’s been crafting a whole new batch of killer songs and recording what should, if there’s any justice, be the cause of his next Grammy nomination.
“The Liar” is a noticeable shift from Fullbright’s earlier work and it’s a professional gamble that deserves to pay off in a big way. In the time since his last album, he moved from his rural home to the city of Tulsa, determined to become part of a musical community and establish himself as a collaborator. He wanted to get away from the introspection that being a solo singer/songwriter often brings, especially when the piano is your main instrument – difficult to drop round for a bit of a sing-song with your piano casually slung across your back! He has said that he wanted to write songs that were upbeat and fun and he has done that with some aplomb.
The opening track, ‘Bearden 1635’, makes you smile with the opening lines – “This chord progression is my favorite/ Because it always resolves/ It starts a little sad from the get-go/ And gets happier as it evolves.” There’s a wonderful playfulness about some of the songs on this album that puts you in mind of Randy Newman from time to time, and that’s no bad thing. Talking directly to the listener, bringing you into his world right from the start, is a clever idea and you instantly feel included and on his side; you want this to be a good album. Which it is, so you really don’t need to worry.
Title track ‘The Liar’ is as fine a piece of bar room confessional as you could hope to hear and it sounds like the whole band had a great time recording it. It features some terrific guitar playing and a chorus that ends with the great line, “God, grant me whiskey and I won’t lie no more”. The whole song has a rollicking quality to it that just makes you feel good. There’s a similar feel to the rockier tracks like ‘Social Skills’ and ‘Poster Child’ and even the more lilting ‘Blameless‘. For those that still want some of that soul searching Fullbright did so well on previous recordings, you can rest assured that those songs are here as well in tracks like ‘Unlocked Doors’ and the brooding ‘Paranoid Heart’. This really is an excellent set of songs, with plenty of variety in style and tempo, giving the album a good dynamic range. Fullbright and his band of collaborators have laid the album out well, giving it a nice flow as an entity but ensuring each track stands up well on its own. It’s all the more impressive when you know that most of the songs were arranged in the studio, during the recording sessions and this process seems to have given the album a very casual feel and in a good way. It doesn’t feel quite so tightly buttoned as some of his earlier work and it sounds like Fullbright has learned to relax and enjoy himself when he’s in the studio. Looking at the writer credits, most of these tracks are still down to Fullbright himself, though there are a couple of co-writes and one cover, but it’s obvious that it’s the collaborative process in the recording studio, working with musicians that he clearly has good rapport with, that has brought this particular group of songs to life in this way and the vibe of the whole album is a really positive one.
The humour that kicked the album off is there again on closer ‘Gasoline’. It’s an anti-love song with another great lyric, guaranteeing a smile, as Fullbright’s piano “noodlings” fade away. Americana is sometimes guilty of taking itself far too seriously, and it’s good to have an album that reminds you it’s possible to listen to this music and have a good time. The power of collaboration is a mighty one indeed.