Down Home Country Blues
Good Light, the newest release from Tennessee’s Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, would be the perfect soundtrack to a nostalgic, romantic film set somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line: it’s got sweet, folksy acoustic love songs and rollicking southern rock jams. And it’s no wonder that the band first sprung to popularity after excerpts from its 2005 album Washed in Blue appeared in Lifetime and Showtime television series. But like many things appropriated for television and mass consumption, Good Light sacrifices some of its verve and originality for smoothly polished, somewhat superficial tunes that are sure to please the masses.
Holcomb and company divide the record between more traditional folk songs and energetic southern-blues-rock. Good Light starts off with “Another Man’s Shoes,” where layers of clean guitars amble over percussion, accompanied by charming duet vocals from Holcomb and his wife and bandmate, Ellie. “Everyone’s got their own set of troubles / everyone’s got their own set of blues,” they sing, in a track that could easily climb the adult contemporary and Top 40 charts with its Everyman mentality and warm, pseudo-country feel. The album’s eponymous song is likewise appealing, a study in easy listening: harmonicas wail over bluesy guitar riffs, shivering organ effects giving it just a hint of a gospel air. “Good Light” and the sentimental paean “Tennessee” wouldn’t be out of place at a bar, nor would “Nothing But Trouble” and the rocking “Nothing Like a Woman,” with its jittery tambourine and buoyant sprinklings of keys.
But the band also has a talent for tender acoustic songs, like the ballad “Can’t Take It With You,” where Holcomb’s voice, at times, sounds remarkably like Bob Dylan, backed up by Ellie’s breathy alto peeking out from behind. While “I Love You, I Do” and “What Would I Do Without You” are sweet, they never go anywhere, never bring anything new to the typical alt-country love song. Holcomb and the band play at their best on “Wine We Drink,” where Holcomb’s crooning is at its most vulnerable over a soft, fingerpicked guitar. It’s the first moment when Ellie takes a solo, when her low, silky voice breaks away from Drew’s semi-melodic lead, and it’s the only song on the album to step away from carefully concocted crowd-pleasers. The Holcombs subvert the cliches and illusions of love songs, singing (rather adorably, in fact), about the quotidian realities of relationships. “I’m not a sunset or a hurricane / or a Vincent Van Gogh, / you are the one thing that I know,” the pair sings, narrating the story of a couple loving each other even in the mundanity of washing “dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.” What is so charming about “Wine We Drink” is its honesty and authenticity, its openness and unassuming frankness.
While Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors are clearly skilled songwriters, and Good Light is certainly pleasant to listen to, the band would do well to push the boundaries a little, let its guard down, and open up to us with some of that famed southern hospitality.