GILL LANDRY (Love Rides a Dark Horse)
Dark Horse- ˈdärk ˈˌhôrs / noun
“A candidate or competitor about whom little is known, but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”
Love and hate need each other for either to have meaning and I feel like it’s the same way with people. I’d like to believe love always wins coming down the stretch - it just might not be the way you envisioned it. In my experience love often isn’t what I expected and wouldn’t be half as good if it was. That basically is what I wrote this album about.
Townes Van Zandt once said “There’s only two kinds of music: the blues and zippety doo-dah.” I’ve always loved that. In my opinion, labeling music sucks, but clearly marketing and classifying music without some label is near hopeless, so here we are. This is not a blues album, though if someone asked me what kind of music I write, I’d like to say blues. Blues singing is an exorcism of the blues itself, and that’s how I relate to what I write. This album for me is an attempt to shine a light on my various traps and sorrows as well as explore their emotional depths. I try to purge hard times in song and can only hope that through sharing these glimpses of hard-to-pin-down emotions, others may feel less alone. So that’s how I approach songwriting - hopefully not wasting anyone’s time, and contributing meaningfully to the conversation within the songs of man.
Since making my last record, I destroyed all the pillars of my life intentionally and by accident. I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing, and had to slowly start rebuilding. When you go back to the ground level in any field, with your toes in the dirt, you've got to really want to do it. I already came up through the clubs, playing all the small gigs, busking the streets, and also got the delusions of grandeur that come from playing in much bigger places. When you've been through it and you know how much work it is to start from the bottom, you have to ask yourself if it's truly what you want. Here we are, so I guess the answer is yes.
A little over two short years ago, I was set to be married to a woman I loved very much, had just won my second Grammy with Old Crow Medicine Show, and life was good by all perceivable standards. However, I was deeply unsatisfied artistically and needed to leave the band. After the first year of touring my last album, I swore to myself I wasn’t writing another goddamned broken-hearted love song, but then my lover took flight and I found myself alone, worn out, disillusioned, and heartbroken in a way I hadn’t known before. The future was looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death, so, it seemed like it wasn’t going to be an overly joyous next record after all. BUT, I wanted to find a light in the darkness. This album is more of ‘a map out of the darkness’ than ‘an invitation to it’.
In writing this album, I wanted to paint a vision of the prison of expectations that eat loving relationships at their core and can turn them into a mechanical farce. The premise through most of this album can be summed up by the title “Scripted Love”. The songs reveal characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed. Their roles are played through narratives either engrained or sold to them through: Hollywood, social norms, family, fairy tales, etc. Hung up on “what’s supposed to happen” over what’s happening. They find themselves disappointed with the reality of relationships due to their false idealizations. Love becomes a possession rather than a presence. This isn’t to say I don’t think that there aren’t millions of people living in harmonious, real, and loving relationships. I don’t happen to know an overwhelming amount of them, but I know they exist.
In December, I spent two weeks on the Washington coast at a friend’s place where I wrote over half of these songs. I was alone with the cold wind and rain pounding in from the North Pacific. Then I ended up back in Nashville living above my friend Nikki Lane’s for a few months where I wrote the rest of them. I moved to a cabin in the country outside Whites Creek, Tennessee to record the album and then took it on the road where I finished vocals and bits in Stockholm, The Isle of Skye, and Blue River, Oregon.
I wanted to personally tell the story behind this record, but there are some things I can’t write so freely. Here’s all the name-dropping, self-congratulatory bits that I’d feel like an ass saying myself, written by “a professional."
The album follows his critically acclaimed self-titled 2015 ATO debut, which featured appearances by Laura Marling and Robert Ellis among other musical pals. Rolling Stone raved that the record landed at "the four-way intersection between Dylan-inspired folk-rock, atmospheric Americana, dusty cowboy songs and street busker ballads," while American Songwriter hailed it saying “these songs, and especially Landry’s honest performance, resonate long after the last note fades. They beckon you back to further absorb his heartfelt, occasionally comforting, musings on the trials and tribulations of romance-gone-sour. It’s a subject most of us have experienced, can easily relate to and one that Landry explores with taste and subtle, refined passion.” The album earned Landry dates with Ben Harper, Laura Marling, Brandi Carlile, Justin Townes Earle, Warren Haynes, Bruce Hornsby, The Wood Brothers, and more, in addition to festival appearances in the US, UK, & Europe.
'Love Rides A Dark Horse' breaks new ground for Landry with contributions from fiddler Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons, Bruce Hornsby), keyboard player Skylar Wilson (Andrew Combs, Rayland Baxter), and drummer Logan Matheny (Roman Candle, Rosebuds), the songs explore a more seductive, stripped-down sound built upon a hushed sense of intimacy that calls to mind Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. The album's tattered narratives cast aside romanticism in favor of reality.
Landry sets the tone from the outset with the alternatingly joyous and ominous album opener "Denver Girls," singing, "If it's not paradise now / Tell me what you're waiting for / Don't you know there is no evermore?" The song features haunting background vocals from First Aid Kit's Klara Soderberg, who joins Landry again later for a proper duet on the driving "Berlin." Additional female vocals appear throughout the album, some from Karen Elson and others from Odessa, their presence a gentle reminder that, as Landry puts it, "it takes two to disagree."
On the spare "Bird In A Cage," Landry searches for escape from the prisons we build inside our own minds, while the classic country of "The Only Game In Town" offers up biting wit in its take-down of love for love's sake. It's a sentiment he explores from a number of angles, perhaps most poetically on "Scripted Love," which looks at the ways we set ourselves up for failure by aspiring to unrealistic standards.
The scope of Landry's songwriting extends beyond just romance, though. On "The Real Deal Died," he laments the performance nature of style-over-substance art, while "The Woman You Are" finds solace in the company of a partner equally alienated by gentrification and sanitization of contemporary culture.
I hope you dig it.