Heartland rock inspired by deserts with acoustic guitars and stadium aspirations
The Artisanals are frontman Johnny Delaware and his collaborator, guitarist Clay Houle, with bassist Eric Mixon and keyboardist Ian Klin, and they play heartland rock, melodic rock or similar and have named John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Jackson Browne as prime influences. They released their self-titled debut album in 2018, and at the time used the studio as an extra instrument. Johnny Delaware changed the approach when they went to Athens, Georgia, to record a collection of songs influenced by his experiences of the desert around Albuquerque, with the theme of resurrection and cycles, and with producer Drew Vandenberg, they recorded music that was more stripped down and upped the acoustic guitar quota for their second album, ‘Zia’.
‘Fear To Fail’, with its exploration of the meaning and benefits of fear and advice on how to ensure fear doesn’t become a break on your life’s ambitions, is the first track with its acoustic and slide guitars. With the theme of resurrection and resetting lives a song with a title of ‘Heading Somewhere’ is not surprising, and while the vocals don’t recall The Byrds there is a jangle to the electric guitar which does tip a hat in their direction. Heartland rock is heavily associated with driving songs, and ‘Always Taken Care Of’ fits the bill to perfection and perfectly captures that feeling of driving endless miles along desert-like landscapes. Homage is paid to the book ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’, with its themes again of resurrection to enable life’s objectives to be met, with the third single ‘Way Up’. The song has been released as one of four singles and finishes with “I’m going up, and this time I’m not coming down”. We have some echoes from The Artisanals’ first album with the more atmospheric ‘Driftwood’, with its keyboard washes, processed vocals and guitars evoking the sound of the ocean’s edge with the tide crashing on the shore.
The second single, ‘Plant The Seed’, ups the indie rock influence but still retains an americana twang. ‘Road’ unsurprisingly is about freedom, and the simply acoustic rhythm guitar echoes the sentiment that the austerity of the desert is a benefit, and is the fourth single. The sense of the open road and the hope of something new is invoked by the lead single, ‘Violet Light’, with an additional sense of longing bringing a potential conflict. The album ends with echoes of George Harrison and Tom Petty’s Traveling Wilburys with the tranquil ‘She Is Looking For An Answer’.
‘Zia’ is a record that was recorded carefully, with songs that have been well thought out. The Artisanals are open about their influences and their music clearly reflects them. If you like heartland rock with some americana twang and a singer-songwriter vibe you will find something to enjoy on ‘Zia’. There is a residual question though, and that is no matter how well recorded and written the music is, there is very little that is new or innovative which raises the question of how sustainable The Artisanal’s career will be, and it is clear the band have stadium aspirations that are also woven into their overall sound. Let the listeners decide.