A sense of nostalgia
John Paul White’s latest solo album—The Hurting Kind—is a deeply personal elegy for a world that White seems to no longer know. The album’s eponymous track “The Hurting Kind” is about a romance that hurts just as much as it loves. The opening and closing tracks, “Good Old Days” and “My Dreams Have All Come True,” both deal with the painful reality White feels. He laments how all his “dreams have come true like all good nightmares do,” and he questions nostalgia about times gone by when he asks, “what’s so good about the good old days?”
White’s melodic vocals complement the folk-country atmosphere. Despite his lyrical rejection of nostalgia, many songs on the album have a nostalgic sound, like the lilting country ballad “Yesterday’s Love.” The simple strumming and brushes on the drum set call back to an earlier kind of country music like the lyrics call back to a love of yesterday without sounding stale. White accomplishes this with his heartfelt vocals. On “Heart Like a Kite” he sounds vulnerable without sounding weak.
White collaborated with country singer Lee Ann Womack on the track “This Isn’t Gonna End Well.” The modern-feeling strumming of the guitar matched on the drum set that repeats throughout reminds listeners of the album’s freshness. Womack’s crisp and clear vocals yield a duet that is at once both comforting and uneasy, capturing the mood of two people who know “this isn’t gonna end well.”
The album has a carefully crafted sound that showcases White’s singing and song-writing abilities. The quiet and intimate “James” contrasts with the bigger and louder, but still restrained sound of “I Wish I Could Write You a Song.” The songs share a feeling of discontent: discontent with the present, with oneself. The album’s relaxed guitar sound offers the perfect backdrop for White’s dramatic vocals. He is often the feature of the songs, much to their advantage.
The contrasts maintain the album’s momentum through its ten songs. The softness of “Yesterday’s Love” is followed by the driving strumming of “The Long Way Home,” which is followed by the delicate “The Hurting Kind.” “You Lost Me” is a calming waltz whose charming southern sound belies its weary and heavy-hearted subject matter.
The Hurting Kind represents a change in White’s sound from his 2016 album Beulah. He draws on a more nostalgic country sound than the previous album. The classic, but modern sound situates White as a student of the Nashville sound that he has been around for years in the city. Even so, White does not limit his influences, drawing from folk and indie music as well to cultivate a sound all his own.
Most songs on The Hurting Kind either look backward or forward in time, but both refuse to provide White relief from the present. He finds a fear of the future and regrets in the past, but White remains hopeful because “from where I am now, there’s no coming back.” Even as he eschews nostalgia when looking back, White assures himself “we’ve got so far to go,” and the only way we can go is forward.