REVIEW: Jay Carlis’ “Here We Are” Confronts Change


In this big, mean ol’ world, sometimes the hardest thing to do is change. Especially when all about you seems to be falling to pieces, it can seem easier to dig your heels in and resist the obvious. Pennsylvania-based songwriter Jay Carlis wants to talk about that reluctance on his album Here We Are.

Carlis himself made some changes in the process of recording this album. The lead singer and principal songwriter of the Philly rock band The Barrel Fires decided to try his Americana sound on a solo record. Produced by Ross Bellenoit (who also works with The Barrel Fires), Here We Are is certainly a full-band type of album, but much more in the country vein than Carlis’ previous work. The acoustic riff on the album’s opener, “Unwind,” might remind you of Jason Isbell’s “Relatively Easy,” and the song itself conveys a similar message of healing – “I said I’d be ready when you were ready to untie the tangled knots drawn up inside you.” Other spots on the album have Carlis himself trying to untie those knots. “Change My Mind” portrays a man trying to sift through the lifelong untruths he’s been told – “Scrape the rust out of the corners of my mind” – to reckon with a planet that’s becoming far more to our survival – “So the oceans are rising and the plains are dry/And there’s no compromising in the halls up high.”

As Here We Are progresses, so does the songwriter’s openness to change. The mid-tempo “Writing on the Wall” has Carlis willingingly pulling off the blinders – “Open up the curtains, let in a little light/I’m not afraid of what I’ll find.” That change, though, is not alwys welcome – “Out on the Porch” is a fiddle-driven tune involving a crumbling relationship, a miscarriage, an unanswered proposal and a mysterious man named John – all the kind of roadblocks that halt us in our attempts to move forward. Carlis is joined by fellow Philadelphian Katie Barbato for the urgent, lusty “Fire and Flood” – “I burn for you more than I should” – before wrapping with the sweet innocence of “Hey, Juniper.” Here, Carlis evokes a 70s sleepiness in lines like “I’ll sing you a song, but babe it’s gonna take some time.” Even in a moment when change is most needed, a simple, old-fashioned love song can be the best Band-Aid.

Here We Are was produced by Ross Bellenoit, recorded and mixed by Doug Raus and mastered by Sean Svadlenak. Additional musicians include Bellenoit (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, banjo, lap steel, percussion and backing vocals), Nate Gonzalez (keyboards), Jeff Hiatt (bass), Tommy Geddes (drums), Maura Dwyer (fiddle) and Brittany Ann Tranbaugh (backing vocals).

Go here to purchase Here We Are:

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