Being a fan of Americana (known by some as “sad cowboy music”) can sometimes lead a listener to feel like a sort of tragedy vulture – so many of the songs we love are borne out of life’s misfires, but we reap the sonic benefits from a songwriter’s toughest times. Last year, Knoxville’s Brian Paddock was hit twice – first by a cancer diagnosis, then with the loss of his mother. Instead of dropping out of music altogether, Paddock changed direction. He poured his sorrow into writing new songs and recruited a new band, the American Gentlemen, to play them. Now in remission, Paddock and his band have released their first album together, Love Is Weird, and it’s a guitar-driven country stomper.
The lead track, “Still Beautiful,” is a begrudging acknowledgement of life’s potential for magic. Acoustic off the top before expanding to include an organ, Paddock lists some hardships before reminding himself that life, “Even when it brings me down, it’s still beautiful.” The title cut, more of a rocker, looks outward and takes pleasure in the madness around us: “Yeah, love is weird, people are strange/But they both leave me smiling most every single day.” “Glory Days” isn’t the Springsteen classic, but Paddock’s voice may remind you of a younger, even more intense version of Bruce. The song itself is a little darker, written by a man hoping he hasn’t “made it” yet – “I sure hope these ain’t my glory days/’Cause all I feel is numb.”
One of the standout elements of Love Is Weird is the guitar work from Denny Myers. “Minnesota” features some nice slide work, while the guitar solo on the bluesy “Maggie” is the rawest I’ve heard in some time, comfortably matching the song’s subject matter, an ill-advised love affair that’s poorly handled.
Popular Americana-ish topics pop up in a couple of songs. “Happy” is anything but, describing a kind of anxiety – “The sting of want won’t go away/Will life ever have enough for me?” And “Good Germans” trades yesterday’s meek acceptance for today’s outspokenness – “”Don’t tell us who to love or lock little kids away’/That’s what I say.” The last song on the album, “34”, is more universal, asking if wisdom and maturity will ever come: “I’m not fit to be a father/I can barely take care of myself/Now every sunset sees me older/In this winter of my youth.” With Paddock’s hushed vocal delivery, a mournful organ line and Myers’ keening guitar, it’s a show-stopping, lighter-waving conclusion to the record.
Love Is Weird was produced by the band: Paddock, Myers, John Baker (bass, vocals, keys, percussion) and Gurnee Barrett IV (drums, percussion). The album was recorded by Baker and Gray Comer at Arbor Studios and mixed by Matt Honkonen at Pitchwire, both in Knoxville. Additional musicians include Evie Andrews (fiddle) and Joey Jaccard (piano). The album can be ordered here: https://www.brianpaddockmusic.com/store