Vibrant production from Jason Isbell’s guitarist Sadler Vaden combines with Walk’s fine melodies and lyrics for an impressive pandemic-inspired album release.
Hailing from Springfield, Illinois, Micah Walk credits his new solo album–his second after his self-titled 2014 debut–to the 2020/21 pandemic. Given space to reflect on what matters most, at a time when musicians were unable to tour, and healthcare workers, such as his wife, were at real personal risk, his lyrics are both timely and pertinent. A further bonus was that Walk was able to assemble an ‘A’ team to bring his songs to fruition, including production by Sadler Vaden, of Jason Isbell & the 400 unit, who also plays lead guitar and sings background vocals. Credited musicians include Kai Welch (Kacey Musgraves) on keys/piano, Tony Lucido (2021 ACM Bass Player of the Year) on bass, and Fred Eltringham (Sheryl Crow) on drums, and the album was engineered by Paul Ebersold.
The quality of production is evident from the first moment on the album–mixing and mastering have produced a vibrant sound throughout the album, but most notably on the up-tempo numbers which positively jump out at the listener. The track order has the feel of a good old vinyl side one/side two, with ‘Supernatural Disasters’ which would open side two on this reckoning a stunning start. At a recent book launch Nick Lowe memorably referred to Diana Ross’s cover of his song ‘I Live on the Battlefield’ as “having had all the kitchen sinks thrown in”, not entirely favourably, here all the kitchen sinks are present and doing a great job. The storming guitar intro combines elements of chiming Motown, Springsteen and The Cars, in the first 20 seconds, and the pace and energy never drop, while the vocals always sit comfortably above the full-on track, as it heads like a runaway train to the guitar outro.
Given the involvement of Sadler Vaden, it’s no surprise that comparisons are drawn to Jason Isbell’s output, and tracks such as album opener ‘In the Dark’ sit comfortably in this zone, with a full band sound with melodic guitar intro. A more reflective tone is struck in ‘Shades of Blue’, a slow tempo number, with synth and acoustic guitar intro, Walk singing “Can you picture things any different now/is time done healing our wounds/maybe we just get used to the pain/and all the shades of blue”.
Walk’s songs feature strong melodies throughout, whether on up numbers with anthemic choruses, or on gentler tracks such as ‘Grace’ where he sings “Funny how things change so fast/even when you think they’re gonna last/when there’s nothing you can do/ nothing you can say/all that will remain is grace”.
Top-notch songwriting, performance and production on Walk’s latest release combine to produce an excellent album for our times.