Rob Baird’s new release After All (Hard Luck Recording Co) was produced by Rick Brantley (John Hiatt, Brandi Clark) under the direction of Jeremy Ferguson (Cage The Elephant, Andrew Combs, Lucie Silvas).and features Baird, with Brantley, Austin ‘Woodrow’ Morgan on guitars and Z Lynch on bass& drums, and more. Recorded directly to analogue at East Nashville’s Battletapes, the album is a stand-out.
In a year that already promises scores of great releases, this one is an early favorite, from the music to the lyrics to the concept. Let’s start by addressing the album’s theme right up front, which you will intuitively experience even if you are listening to this album cold, with no preconceptions. You’ll instinctively recognize it’s an emotional build-up album. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover Baird’s album concept: it winds through the seven stages of grief — which we’ve all gone through at some point or another — as experienced through a break up. As Baird says, the seven stages are: 1) desperation for answers, 2) denial 3) bargaining 4) relapse 5) anger 6) initial acceptance 7) hope, and both the lyrics and the music clearly build through the progression to a climactic anger, giving way to acceptance and hope. The experiment here is a success, and the overall listening experience creates a true bond with the audience.
In terms of music, the production here is top notch and the music is innovative on every track. On top of that, Baird’s vocals have a catch in them that creates an irresistible emotional resonance. The guitar solos are sublime, and the percussion throughout the album is outside the usual boxes. On the title track, the drumming takes place on an edge, and the piano notes are clear and foreboding. The song clinches the fear of losing we can all relate to, with lines like: “Would you forget me if I call, afterall?”
“Losing Hands” takes the perspective of a blameless “unlucky in love” (aka self-pitying) character — Baird’s exercise in exploring the denial phase. But it all takes place over good, long, rock guitar solos. “Greedy Eyes” marks a relapse in the break-up process with shakers, shuffly beats and sustained effects.
By the time you get to the sixth track, it’s all built up to “Ain’t Going Back to You,” which will take you on a full-blown “earworm road trip.” On repeat. It’s just that kind of song, and just that good. Between the irresistible percussion drum sound, which sounds like the drums were being played with a jingle stick, and Kristen Rodgers (Brent Cobb, Anderson East) with her haunting, eerie “Whoooo Ahhh” background vocals, and the energy that taps immediately into that feeling we all relate to (you know the one, the one when we’re finally ready to get the hell out) this song flat-out rocks. Baird’s comment was that this is the most “literal,” lyrically, on the album. But musically it’s layers of complexity. And it creates a climate of that good, healthy, no-f*cks-left-to-give anger. Thus, it warrants the title, hands-down, of being the centerpiece of the album.
The song with Lucie Silvas on backing vocals, “Burning Blue,” marks the point in the album where Baird is most emotionally open, raw, and poignant: “we’re all just ashes floating through the night, holding on to what’s left of sweet time, learned with love you don’t have to choose.” The song is downright pretty and the lead guitar on this one is hypnotic, with a sustained complexity of detail. The album closer, “Best that I Was,” plays with the idea that “all that was us, was the best that I was,” with slow rock ballad build-ups, electric guitar and piano solos, this perfectly rounds out the album with its grand finale of hope.
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