Reflections on love and loss, drawing upon California’s musical heritage.
With the estimable T-Bone Burnett curating his eponymous début album in 2020, Logan Ledger announced his arrival on the Nashville scene. Raised in the San Francisco Bay area and possessed of a honeyed voice, Ledger had caught the attention of the legendary producer while singing in the bars and clubs of Music City. Surprising then, that after this early success, he should come to feel “lost in the weeds, struggling to figure out what to do next”.
Enter Shooter Jennings, producer of Ledger’s formidable second album, ‘Golden State’, whose title references the artist’s native California. Not so much a paean to its mountains, forests and deserts as a metaphorical exploration of his own spiritual landscape, the album draws heavily upon Ledger’s wide-ranging musical influences. Describing his “archaeological impulse to music-making”, Ledger’s musical cornerstones include the Smithsonian Folkways collection, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, Jerry Garcia and The Byrds’ Clarence White, an inspiration for Ledger’s own guitar playing.
As Ledger says, “I’ve always believed that in order to create something new with purpose, one must be steeped in the past and work from within the tradition.” With its shimmering guitars, lush strings and honky-tonk piano, ‘Golden State’ draws upon the Bakersfield sound of the 50’s and especially the country-rock scene of the 60’s and 70’s in a highly original sublimation of California’s musical legacy.
After a gentle western-themed overture, the opening lines of the title track ask “Where are we going? Where have we been?” as if to prologue the uncertainty and loss that permeate the album. Russ Pahl’s wistful pedal-steel and Ledger’s mellow baritone are laid over a sumptuous string arrangement before the quest continues in ‘There Goes My Mind’, with its echoes of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The pace slows with ‘Till It Feels Right’, a tale of lost love featuring some tender guitar from Nick Bockrath.
A pair of songs evoke the world-weariness of a Merle Haggard Okie, first in the anthemic ‘All the Wine in California’ followed by the plaintive cri de coeur of a disillusioned country singer –
“It’s midnight in LA
And there ain’t no use to cry
For every dream that’s born
Another has to die.”
Ledger is joined by Erin Rae for ‘Some Misty Morning’, a languid duet expressing hope and evoking the teamwork of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on ‘Raising Sand’.
In ‘I’m Not Here’ Ledger demonstrates his extraordinary vocal range with a finale worthy of Roy Orbison’s ‘It’s Over’ and in ‘Obviously’ he takes us back to the 50’s with some Fats Domino-style rhythm and blues, full of delicious irony.
‘Golden State’ ends as it began, with a question. A bitter-sweet song tinged with nostalgia for his Bay area past, the beautiful ‘Where Will I Go’ expresses an aspiring singer-songwriter’s insecurities amidst thoughts of leaving Nashville and “this crazy scene”. If the song springs from his own personal experience, then with this highly accomplished record, Logan Ledger has provided an emphatic response.