Album Review | Reed Foehl's Lucky Enough

“We’ve all got holes to fill/Them holes are all that’s real” -Townes Van Zandt

Reed Foehl’s excellent album “Lucky Enough” (available 2/1/19) takes the listener on an existential journey to fill life’s holes. Written at an impossibly difficult time in Foehl’s life, while he was caring for his mother who was battling cancer, Foehl would be understood for writing a melancholy record. Lucky Enough ducks expectation. It does not feel melancholy. It feels settled. Not resigned, but at peace with life’s challenges and tribulations.

The common current running through Lucky Enough is acceptance. Going out and searching for something to make us whole. The album is sequenced as the tale of a person navigating existence, learning lessons, failing and growing, and finally finding a place and a person who fills in the holes.

Lucky Enough kicks off with the infectious melody of lovers “Stealing Starlight,” lyrics about the simple pleasures of life. The “taste of Basil Hayden’s” on the tongue. Footprints washed away in the sand. Sleeping in together. Stealing starlight.

But, as restless spirits are wont to do, our narrator takes off cross country clicking through “American Miles.” It’s a cinematic tune a la Bon Iver. A restive tale that acknowledges all the narrator loves is all he knows.

Who knows what we are going to encounter on that road; that American road, the one serving as a metaphor for our life’s journey. The journey is long yet it feels at times like it is flying by too quickly to grasp. It “takes a long time to make old friends,” our narrator tells us. And, really, we are just “charting the courses of carousel horses,” lost in this day-to-day.

Sometimes we feel we should be “on an Island” like the protagonist in the opening track to Lucky Enough’s side B. He admonishes us to remember that “You don’t know me till you can walk in my shoes.” But an island is no place for a battle.

Our struggles can seem so enormous yet really we ultimately “running out of nothing left to do.” A regiment of blinding agents keeps us moored to our carousel. None of us on our own really knows what we are doing. We need each other to navigate this world.

Foehl employs an almost whimsical feel to help his narrator work through this existential angst on the heavy yet fun “I Wish I Knew.” Ultimately, the heady musings of Lucky Enough come to the realization that what we all need is someone or some group of souls to fill in our holes. We can only do so much on our own. Once we have rambled the miles, made and lost friends, endured the day-to-day, and run out of nothing left to do we are faced with ourselves. Our strengths, our insecurities, our charms, our anxieties- all of it needs the tempering influence of people we love.

Lucky Enough ends with the arresting “Color Me In.” “What will you do with me, my darlin’?” Foehl’s narrator asks, followed by an entreaty to come and lay with him, to relish the moment they have together. Together they can make it. No, together they will make it. What may not be possible alone is attainable with someone there to fill the holes.

-Jason Earle

Overdue Review | Elizabeth Cook's Exodus of Venus

Elizabeth Cook’s Exodus of Venus is a grilled pimento cheese sandwich dipped in a Sriracha bath- all the comfort of Southern delicacies served up by grandma but with enough fire and rebellion to be easily confused as something other than a country staple. Cook sticks to the truth part of country music’s three chords and the truth formula, but her impact on the consumer cannot be reduced to bromides.

Exodus of Venus is a brilliant record. A record about place- geographical, metaphysical, spiritual, monumentally multi-dimensional. Her descriptions of life’s travails carry that most-desirable musical quality- relatability.

Whether she is talking about breaking down in London or visiting houses of ill repute in Central Florida, Cook has the ability to make any situation feel applicable to the listener’s life. There is a nugget of wisdom in each tune. Some are hard-earned lessons, others the kind we all experience but struggle to express.

The first half of Exodus of Venus is about getting away- releasing, escaping. “Exodus of Venus',” “Dyin’,” “Evacuation,” “Dharma Gate,” “Slow Pain,” even the titles suggest a journey away from current circumstances, a getaway from perceived reality. My mother had a family friend once tell her that you spend the first half of your life trying to get away from home and the second doing whatever you can to return. I have learned not to take such advice literally. Home is more than the place we were raised.

Exodus of Venus takes us home to heal on side B. Much of the record describes places in and around where Cook was reared. “Methadone Blues” ostensibly describes trips to the methadone clinic in Jacksonville, FL, but its message of continually chasing elusive relief could refer to the struggles of folks imprisoned by myriad circumstances around the world. The fact that Cook writes what she knows gives us a foothold for our own spiritual climb wherever we may need it.

“Orange Blossom Trail” is a tune set just down the road from Cook’s native Wildwood. OBT as it is colloquially know, is a stretch notorious for its prostitutes and drugs. Cook’s “Orange Blossom Trail,” much like “Straightjacket Love” before it, juxtaposes that setting with comforting companionship- a sordid tale buoyed by a shoulder-shaking melody and infectious hook.

The record ends with the heartbreaking yet hopeful “Tabitha Tuder’s Mama,” a song about missing children, a story all-too-often repeated in headlines today. While the story of Tabitha, who went missing in 2003 at the age of thirteen is a painful one, the message of the chorus is to pray, “even if you don’t pray at all.” We can blow up our own world. So long as we survive we have a chance to get back.

Maybe we need to return to the physical place we were raised, to a spiritual understanding of ourselves, or to awareness that bad things happen but we must keep fighting for answers. Exodus of Venus is the soundtrack to that fight.

-Jason Earle

2018 in Review | The Books

In 2018, I finally sought therapy for the anxiety that has plagued most of my life. 
Doing so was one of the best decisions I have made and I am grateful to have access to a really good therapist, as well as the support of my inner circle.

Getting mental health help can be daunting. Looking back, I felt like if I was committed to getting help then I would no longer have anxiety as an excuse or explanation for some of my more anti-social and self-destructive tendencies. 
I was wrong, of course. Well, I was right about not having an excuse or explanation, but that was true before I sought help.

I was wrong about therapy being daunting. It is a lot of work, which is good. BJ Barham and I talked on Episode 1 of The Marinade about the value of hard work. The phrase 'hard work' evokes images of the grindstone and a swinging hammer. 
The work I have done on myself this year has been equally exhausting but also liberating.

I am far from done. This work is a never ending cycle of discovery, struggle, and revelation. 
One such revelation has been that I know I am at my best when I write, read, and exercise regularly. That's it. If I do those things, the other stuff takes care of itself.

So, I set out to read more. I have always devoured books but my heroes are voracious consumers of words and ideas. I knew I could do more.

I did not keep count of the books I read. I am too prone to competition to do something like that. It would interfere with my enjoyment. 
Safe to say, I read as much as needed. This list reflects the books that really stuck with me.

Cheers and love in 2019, y'all.

-Jason Earle

Album Review | Hawks and Doves "From a White Hotel"

Kasey Anderson sets the tone for his record From a White Hotel within the first minute. Just over forty seconds in he sings, “They gonna stack up the dead till they black out the sun/These white boys with money make the whole world run”

The establishment is clearly in Anderson’s cross hairs on From a White Hotel, the first release from his band Hawks and Doves. Not strictly a protest record, but one that will not overlook the current administration’s bigotry and absence of empathy. From a White Hotel’s agenda feels rooted in hope and opportunity, a commitment to examining the ugly bits along with the good, in finding humanity from characters who American society puts in boxes convenient for cognitive dissonance - freak, degenerate, lazy - and throws into a forgotten pile with others deemed unfavorable.

This is a record that lays the characters, the listener, and the album’s narrator bare. It is a record of unification- bringing together what it means to be “American,” to be human. From a White Hotel is a white-hot rock n’ roll record. It is a return to form for Anderson, the writer and performer who just embarked on his first tour in several years. From a White Hotel is also the best thing Anderson has done in his critically acclaimed career.

The album has no holes. Its sequence takes the listener on a hopeful journey through heartache, confusion, loss, lust, love, and resilient fight. Anderson’s tunes are tough for this author to leave as background music. Every stanza is dripping with imagery to which those of us who write regularly aspire.

We could pluck examples from nearly any spot on the record to illustrate this point. The title track provides one such example. The song begins with spare percussion and the strum of a guitar chord. The arrangement of the tune lays Anderson’s gravelly voice and powerful imagery bare. He paints a scene of national disaster in the first verse. The second brings us closer to home, letting us into the narrator’s intimate fantasies.

“Way back in my travelin’ days I kissed a girl in San Antone/She was every faded fantasy I called upon when I was alone/But I’ll leave that here in this old house with everything I own and set it on fire”

Moving on, not just away from the past but toward something better, more meaningful. “From a White Hotel” is perhaps the most personal song on the album and one to which there is so much for the listener to attach. This album is not only our favorite Kasey Anderson effort, it is one of our favorite albums of the year thus far. If enough great records come along to knock it from its perch in the next six months, well that will be a very nice problem to have.

-Jason Earle