An upbeat and optimistic jaunt
In their latest album—Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)—Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real certainly make promises but struggle to make good on them. Nelson and company search for a world better than the one they’re in.
“I believe that every heart is kind/ some of them are just a little underused” Nelson sings in the album’s titular song. With supporting vocals Sheryl Crow, the song creates the sort of positive and happy atmosphere Nelson is going for. The song’s chorus, while a little heavy on didacticism, has a positive message: “Turn off the news and raise the kids/ give them something to believe in.” Nelson’s optimism is the core of this whole album because even when he wants to “turn off the fucking news” he has hope that we can have “something to believe in.”
The first three songs on Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) follow a similar structure to that song. It is a pop-sounding album with strong folk influences. Nelson’s voice has a certain rough quality to it that softens the pedantic tone that his songs slip into. He relies heavily on electric guitar, often overlaying acoustic as well with a heavy and driving drum beat. They begin with a guitar riff that is then joined by the rest of the ensemble. The first three songs are not quite emotional enough to be called a ballad, but all have a certain emotional quality to them.
Like many albums, Nelson has a song about heartache and it comes at track four entitled “Save a Little Heartache.” Don’t be fooled, however, because “Save a Little Heartache” has one of the bluesiest and catchiest licks on the album. Anchored by a repetitive and bluesy guitar riff, the song also has a cool and slightly off-kilter chorus.
“Life is heaven. Life is Hell” is a line from “Lotta Fun” but could also sum up Nelson’s concerns on this album. He is concerned about the world he lives in and longs for a better one. The feeling is evident in “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)” and in “Simple Life” when he invites you to “Do a little less thinkin’, babe…come live a simple life.” Nelson’s carefree optimism is also evident in the laidback “Lotta Fun,” which is laidback despite its opening lines. Listening to it, you can’t help but bob your head with it a little bit. The one thing that isn’t laid back is the production on this album, which is very polished.
Lukas Nelson, who is the son of Willie, has been busy recently. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real regularly plays with Neil Young, and they have recorded several albums with him, along with five of their own studio albums. Nelson co-produced the music for the 2018 film A Star is Born. This album is the latest from the busy group, but it showcases their cohesive sound and Nelson’s upbeat attitude.