Justin Wells’ new solo record ‘The United State’ released on Singular Records is a narrative which Wells has written describing the journey between birth and death. It is bookended by two short instrumental pieces with the songs in between detailing the path through life, choices made and roads travelled down and others avoided. Wells has stated that he wanted the album to find the Universal in these divided times but to not be political in nature. This could have ended up an overblown concept album about the human condition but it is in fact an album which is full of hope, wistfulness and a really enjoyable listen.
His second solo album was co-produced with Duane Lundy in a different way to his first ‘Dawn in the Distance’, as he has took much longer to piece together the songs and involved a number of fellow musicians. Wells’ notes this feeling of collaboration: “My name is on the cover, but a community made this album.” The feeling of community pervades through the record and leaves you feeling like you would like to be part of his gang, swapping stories and hanging out with Wells and his fellow musicians.
‘The United State’ is a solid album of country-rockers and slower numbers with Wells in a contemplative mood. Many of the songs make reference to lessons learnt for his younger self. On one of the standout tracks ‘No Time For a Broken Heart’ he captures the feeling of invincibility when you are younger seen through the prism of his older self. Wells sings with his lovely country tone that when you are young you should “let the whole damn place know your name”. In the same song he tells his younger self that “I’d like to lie and tell you it gets better. We don’t all fall apart some time.” knowing what is on the other side when it is harder to succumb to careless abandonment of the young.
On ‘Never Better’ Wells writes about how some times in life can be more difficult than others when he sings “I flew up the mountain just to fall down its side.”. As the album progresses, his message is one of hope as he sings on the bluesy groove of ‘It’ll All Work Out’ about how we need to “keep trying they say” as the “sun is shining… dream ain’t dying…It’s better than it was before.” On ‘Temporary Blue’ Wells sings that even though he “know(s) how it all plays out” that “there’s time when a story takes a turn.” knowing that life can change direction at any point.
The album’s penultimate song ‘The Bridge’ references the first full song on the album ‘The Screaming Song’ and its line “it won’t be the last time I am on my own” with the line “till I see you again I am on my own.”. Wells has made making the notoriously difficult second (solo) album something which may be challenging to better on his third release, but I wouldn’t want to bet against him being able to do so.