By John B. Moore
While not specifically billed as a concept album, Justin Wells’ latest, The United State (out Aug 28 on Singular Recordings), has a consistent theme running throughout the dozen tracks. The album opener, “You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You,” followed by “The Screaming Song,” tracks life from the beginning, unfolding chronologically, and closes with death. The record is bookended with emotionally-heavy tracks, but in the middle – just like life, are some fun, raucous moments. “No Time For A Broken Heart,” is near perfect bar room singalong, while the slow burn, brilliant guitar and Well’s vocals in “After The Fall” is almost worth the price of the record alone.
The United State is Wells second solo outing and an impressive follow up from the critically-lauded Down In the Distance. Before that he’d built a reputation as one of the Outlaw Country torchbearers in the promising Southern Rock band Fifth On The Floor. But the songs here, like “After The Fall” and the sanguine, no worries theme “It’ll All Work Out” – the Americana version of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” – are easily some of the best writing of his career.
As the album works its way chronologically through life, past adolescents and into adulthood and raising a family on tracks like “When The Walls Fall Down,” the music is a little less boisterous but just as emotional. The second to last track, “the Bride” is peaceful in its realization but just as sad as the album and its character winds down, ending with the final brief “Farwell, Mr. Hooper,” with little more than reassuring hums, over soft music. The effect is powerful and perfectly caps a record that covers a lifetime. Concept records, for good reason, are often criticized for being bloated, pretentious affairs with convoluted stories shoehorned in. By sticking with a universal theme – life – Wells, through solid writing and a remarkably expressive voice, makes one of the most relatable concept records in recent memory. Produced by Duane Lundy (Ringo Starr, Sturgill Simpson). https://justinwellsmusic.com