John Richard Paul “The Road of Life”

Independent, 2024

With ‘input’ from John Prine, this heartwarming album tells a story of life.

Artwork for John Richard Paul album "The Road of Life"John Richard Paul comes across as a very interesting character; he hails from Traverse City, Michigan, aka the cherry capital of the world, due to the extensive cherry production in the area. Traverse City sits at the head of Grand Traverse Bay (both East and West arms) on Lake Michigan. A multi-instrumentalist, Paul plays acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, mandolin and piano at various points of the record, as well as singing; however this is no one-man band effort, there’s a cast of other musicians who contribute.

Paul has been around for a while, in the past working with a long list of artists in addition to his solo work, and for some time has played bass guitar and provided backing vocals in the Drew Hale Band (Hale plays electric guitar on four songs here). Since 2019, Paul has played in a duo (Rhett and John) with Rhett DuCouer, who contributes backing vocals on one song here.

The Road of Life‘ represents Paul’s first full-length solo record, though it seems the songs (all written by Paul) have been brewing for a while, and some have seen the light of day previously. The LP was recorded at The Old Mission in Traverse City between April 2022 and December 2023.

Fittingly, given the record’s title, the songs are autobiographical, drawn from personal life experiences. Paul describes himself as an observer, “taking everything in, the whole world, the people, places and things that make up a life” he once referred to what he does as “not so much songwriting as emotional journalism”, what a great line!

Paul’s voice has a ‘lived in’ or world weary quality to it, which suits his songs so well. The record opens with ‘Across the Lake‘, a song about the loss of somebody close, where nothing will ever be the same again, but memories remain. The lyrics are descriptive “The feeling of loss is palpable, Things we never noticed before, An eerie quiet settles through the house, Summer will never be the same“. This track includes some really good pedal steel playing by Jim Kremidas. One of the LP’s singles, ‘Plus Two‘ is about family; Paul acknowledges that he can be hard to live with, but he and his wife are still together after 20 years and they now have two young sons (the ‘plus two’). This song has been around for a while and has appeared on previous releases, but Paul describes it as “integral” to his life. It features a nice, short guitar solo by Chris Sterr.

The Worriers Hall of Fame‘ is quite amusing; it’s about four generations of worriers in the family “Coz I come from a long line of worriers, My grandpa’s in the Worriers Hall of Fame” and concludes with “And now I’m worried my boys will be worriers, too“. The tune skips along, driven by the piano. ‘Silver Linings‘, another single, could be one of the more depressing songs you’ll hear this year, if you listen to the lyrics; “But you know, it’s just a passing phase, You’ll probably feel much better in a year, And you know, it’s never quite as bad as it seems, You’ve always been one for silver linings, And you know, this too will end“. Apparently Paul’s mom always asks him who ‘Silver Linings‘ is about, but he insists that it’s a song for everybody.

No Matter How Hard We Try‘ is again full of pessimism; written during the early days of the pandemic, there’s despair “Could you have ever imagined even four years ago, That we’d be here, With our hearts on the floor, And our plans on the shelf?“. Paul wrote ‘Sea Shell City‘ after the death of his grandma; his first major loss of a loved one. The song reminisces about an afternoon he shared with her, as a boy, when she took him to Sea Shell City, Cheboygan, Michigan; a tourist attraction and gift shop, about two hours drive from Traverse City. Paul clearly has clear, fond memories of the occasion.

The title track comes with a back story. The song came to Paul, almost complete, in a dream; John Prine appeared in the dream imploring Paul to get up and capture what Prine described as a good song. The lyrics begin “The road you’re on might seem to be headed in the wrong direction, And the signs along the way keep pointing to the places that you’ve just come from” then later “But it’s okay, Sit back, enjoy the ride, Just keep moving, You’ll get to where you need to be in time“. It fits in with Paul’s view that everything happens for a reason and makes us the people we are. Listening to the song, it appears John Prine is a good judge of what makes a good song.

Spend time with this record and you’re likely to find it’s very easy to like; the songs are well crafted, the subjects are believable and there’s an endearing, wholesome feel to it.


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