John Calvin Abney

REVIEW: John Calvin Abney “Tourist”


John Calvin Abney — Tourist

Most of us, out of some mix of fear and lack of destination, cut travel out of our lives in the early months of the pandemic. However, faced with an expiring lease in San Francisco, singer-songwriter John Calvin Abney decided that art (and a road trip) would be his next steps. Written along, and inspired by, Abney’s trip to Austin, Tourist serves as a different sort of travelog – less about seeing the sights, more about treasuring both limited interactions and the gift of empty time.

The rather impromptu nature of Abney’s trip (a destination without a firm itinerary, crashing with trusted friends) is reflected in the DIY approach to Tourist. Recorded on the road with Abney’s “portable studio” and supplemented only with contributions from frequent collaborator John Moreland, the album has a languid, almost dream-like feel. Opener “Full Moon Friend” starts off mentioning the kind of idleness that might prompt such a trip on the first place – “Off the road a while/My Mind is a turnstile” – and reminding us that time lost to the pandmeic won’t be returned to us on on the back end – “Taking tickets for every mile/And a toll for every year.” That dream-like reverie is swept away in the bouncy “Call Me Achilles,” which finds an antsy Abney ready to blow town – “I got hung up/I know better now.”

Solo road trips leave a lot of room for misplaced nostalgia, and Abney nails that dubious sentiment in “Watch Me Go (Back in Time).” Centered around acoustic guitar with just a sniff of banjo, the song has Abney taking time to assess his current state while trying to push past self-deception – “I’ve been doing okay/But not always at night/Open a bottle of wine/Turn off my open sign.” The question of wavering mental health is even more forward in “Holy Golden West,” as a bout of sadness begins to set in – “Lights out, curtains drawn/I see the big one coming on” – but the key-driven tune, while pensive, is just light enough to allow a little light to seep in.

Tourist, like the road trip that spawned it, isn’t meant to be an exercise in sadness, but of discovery. In “Leave Me at the Shoreline,” Abney finds himself wanting more than the freedom that the road seems to offer – “I don’t want to be a getaway/Relief for a moment’s sake.” In the piano-led ballad that wraps the album, “Good Luck and High Tide,” the singer acknowledges the space he’s been occupying – “Standing on the outside/Always looking in/Not seeing who I am/Only whatI could have been.” It’s a quiet admission that patience and acceptance aren’t his strengths, but are attainable. And what’s a road trip without a little bit of self-realization?

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Watch Me Go (Back in Time) – The way the song unfolds and subtly reveals its melancholy is the sweetest kind of gutpunch. And who can’t identify with “Nothing works like it used to/Except my favorite chair”?

Go here to order Tourist (out August 5):

Check out tour dates here:

Tourist was mixed by John Moreland; engineered by John Moreland and John Calvin Abney; mastered by Kim Rosen; with album layout by Pearl Moreland.

John Calvin Abney – acoustic guitar, vocals, harmonica, synthesizers, wurlitzer, rhodes, mellotron, piano, banjo, percussion

John Moreland – drums, bass, sequencing/programming, percussion, harmony vocals, synthesizers

Leave a Reply!