I’ll never forget the day I heard Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors’ last album, Medicine. It was March of 2015, and I had just begun to really explore Americana (indie Country…whatever) in more depth than I had in 2014. I don’t know exactly how I stumbled upon that particular album, but I do remember the time period. I was on vacation, and while I won’t tell you where, I will tell you that it was snowing like hell that day, and as a result we couldn’t get out of where we were (we were staying with friends). So on that snowy day I decided to see if there were any new albums I could discover, and after that…there you have it.
It’s kind of fitting that I bring up that story, not only since Medicine was one of my favorite albums of 2015, but also because that particular album had a certain mood to it – bright, shimmering folk bolstered by Drew’s smoother vocals that was really hard to accurately describe beyond that. It was also the perfect album for Winter, and to understand that, you have to hear the album sometime.
As for Drew’s new album, Souvenir, it’s got the same qualities I loved about Medicine even though this feels like a different album. If Medicine was for the Winter, Souvenir is for the Spring, as there’s just such a bright atmosphere to this album.
Trying to convey the sound this album is going for is hard, mostly because it’s all over the place despite feeling oddly consistent as a whole. Americana would be the best descriptor I guess, but really there’s something here for Country, Folk, Rock, and Blues fans (plus maybe even a little more). That’s not important though. What is important though is the instrumentation and production. I know I’ve beat this point into the ground a lot by now, but there really is a sense of life and brightness within the tones here. The easiest comparison would be Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost with the softer acoustics that blend in some nice pedal steel, but Drew takes it even further.
You get doses of harmonica in songs like the roots rocker “California” and the quieter “Postcard Memories”, and songs like “Morning Song” and “Black and Blue” are the type of songs that come in like lambs and go out like lions (to switch the common phrase a bit). You know what though, the easiest way to describe the brightness may be in the lyrical content.
There are no abstract or any particular overarching themes on this album outside of possibility the celebration of life. Instead, what you get are songs that are easy to relate to without sacrificing any smart or witty details. Actually, the one thing I’ve always liked about Drew’s music (from the few albums I’ve heard from him) is that he’s really a poet when it comes to his lyrical content, and why he hasn’t “blown up” because of that I’ll never know, because there is some incredible stuff on here.
“Fight For Love”, “Sometimes”, and especially “Wild World” are the types of songs we need right now – songs that don’t speak to any particular side or try to draw any ire. Instead, they try to tell the listener, hey, be yourself, but also be aware of others’ opinions and respect them. Discuss, don’t shout. Come together, not apart. These are themes I always try to push on this blog (in terms of musical philosophy that is, even if I’ve been hypocritical more than once), but really they’re themes that extend to life in general.
On the note of pure poetry though, a song like “Rowdy Heart, Broken Wing” is literally fighting with “Wild World” for my favorite of the year, and “Yellow Rose Of Santa Fe” features the type of genius songwriting that you would expect to be a Country classic in another day and age. Really, starting with “Postcard Memories”, the album really ends on an incredible high note (and it starts that way as well).
Looking for criticisms for this album is hard, but I will say the electronic beat that opens “New Year” is a little off-putting (despite the song evolving into a highlight by the end), and while I can appreciate Drew’s message to his daughter on “Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain”, as a fan I feel like it would have worked better as a ballad rather than an upbeat, ukulele driven happy tune.
It’s hard to say if I like this album better than Medicine, but I do think it’s overall much more consistent. Really digging at the heart of it is hard, but there’s just something about this album that has exactly what I need right now in my life, and overall it’s another high mark in Drew’s extensive and incredible career.
Favorite Tracks: “Wild World”, “Rowdy Heart, Broken Wing”, “Fight For Love”, “The Yellow Rose Of Santa Fe”, “The Morning Song”