Inconsistent and self-indulgent eighth effort from the East Nashville-based roots artist and writer – be warned, it includes a 15-minute spoken-word piece.
When the Covid-19 outbreak forced East Nashville singer-songwriter and author, Korby Lenker, to cancel his hectic touring schedule in early 2020 – he had 150 shows planned for the year – he found himself stuck at home, so he recorded his eighth studio album, ‘Man In The Maroon.’
“I remember thinking, ‘who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow?’ and I wanted to create an album as though it were the last thing I’d ever make,” he says. If this does out to be his swansong, it wouldn’t be a great way to bow out, as it’s a self-indulgent mess of a record – a hotchpotch of ideas.
It’s a shame, because it starts brilliantly, with the infectious, Brendan Benson-style power-pop-meets-indie-folk-rock of ‘All In My Head’, which tackles depression, and was written during Lenker’s nightly jogs, which coincided with the ‘8.00 howl’, when, during the pandemic, East Nashville residents howled for health care workers. Well, it’s a lot more hipster than Clap for Carers, I’ll give you that.
‘Crow Country’ – about his self-imposed period of isolation in Montana following the sudden death of his younger sister – is an oddly jarring and unconvincing, bluegrass-tinged song, with clawhammer banjo and Native American artist Bill Miller on flute and backing vocals. In total contrast, ‘Soft As A Cactus’, said to be a love song for introverts, is a dappy and irksome folk-pop ballad: “I was on an alien planet – population one. Then you showed up – baby, set your phaser to stun.” It’s the sort of song that people who find The Big Bang Theory funny would like.
There’s more bluegrass on the forgettable instrumental ‘Billie Louise’, some pedestrian, late-night blues-rock on ‘Paper Cuts’, and, on the soul-searching and maudlin piano and vocal song, ‘What’s Wrong With Us’, Lenker simply sounds like he’s got the blues.
‘Now I Once Thought That I Was Strong’ is a weak country-gospel pastiche, but ‘Tri State Lottery’ is much better – an atmospheric country ballad that was written on piano and recorded on the old Steinway that was used for The Johnny Cash Show in the ‘70s. Some of that Man In Black magic has rubbed off on Lenker, as it’s the best song here and evokes early Ryan Adams. It could’ve easily been on ‘Gold’.
Sadly, just as you’re thinking the album is going to redeem itself, it falls at the last hurdle. Lenker chucks in a tedious spoken-word short story, ‘Mose and Ella’, which clocks in at almost 15 minutes, and then ends the record with an uninspiring cover of ‘Moon River’.
He describes ‘Man In The Maroon’ as a ‘for-the-joy-of-it project’. Maybe that’s why it’s so inconsistent – a disparate collection of songs that doesn’t work as an album. It feels thrown together and half-formed. On ‘Soft As A Cactus’, Lenker sings: “I felt like giving up – I did not give a fuck.” Maybe he should consider it, as ‘Man In The Maroon’ is mostly the sound of someone who’s hopelessly adrift.