Bo Armstrong — If your tired heart is aching…
Let’s be honest for a minute – the reason we listen to the music we do is not because we hope to learn some grand, worldly truths. It’s because it taps into something we’re feeling. Songwriters don’t have many different experiences than we civilians do – they just have a gift (and a work ethic) that allows them to put into words what we usually can’t. Bo Armstrong’s latest album, If your tired heart is aching…, builds on the promise found on 2020’s Chasing Ballads with a collection of new songs bound to touch a nerve.
My biggest takeaway from Chasing Ballads was “Wearing Out These Wings,” which is the kind of sweetly somber love song we don’t hear much in country music anymore – I’m not sure I’ve come across its equal in the two years since. Armstrong’s goal on If your tired heart is aching… isn’t replicating that song. Rather, it is, quite simply, putting two types of love on display – those that work, and those that don’t. After the album-opening instrumental “Ask me where I’m from…,” that mission begins with the mid-tempo “Get It Right,” a look at romantic mistakes and how those frequent foul-ups result in (hopefully) an ability to do it better – “If it’s gonna last a lifetime, then I’ve got one last shot to get it right the first time.” Another line in this track – “the lovin’ and the leavin’ is a young man’s game” – comes from a then-unfinished song on the record. Armstrong and producer Brian Douglas Phillips circled back to finish “Young Man’s Game,” which ends up as an ode to romantic stick-to-itiveness inspired by conversations with Armstrong’s father – “For every kiss and starry eye…There’s 40 years of getting by.” It’s that kind of resilience that not only makes a marriage last, but also keeps a relative latecomer like Armstrong plugging away at making great music.
The neatest narrative trick on If your tired heart is aching… comes in the middle of the record, when Armstrong covers the Mary Chapin Carpenter/Don Schlitz favorite “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” featuring a woman who leaves a marriage because she’s lost herself – “When she was 36, she met him at their door/She said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t love you anymore.’” Armstrong follows that up with a pensive original, “Stranger In My Bed,” portraying what he calls “the man that was left behind.” The tune, tinged with a weeping steel line from Phillips, shows a man fully aware of his shortcomings, even if he can’t explain them – “he knows what he’s doing/But he can’t tell you why.” The hope is to replace the ghost of a man with the guy he used to be – “he don’t love you like he’s supposed to/But I swear that I still can.” Can he? We’re left asking, because lIke “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” the questions in “Stranger In My Bed” are bigger than the answers, and that’s the gift of Armstrong’s particular brand of storytelling. It’s the stuff that what we call “country music” should be made of.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Why, Dallas?” – A steely shuffle of a song that asks why a place can have such an outsized influence on a person.
If your tired heart is aching… was produced, recorded and mixed by Brian Douglas Phillips and mastered by Joe Causey. All original songs written by Bo Armstrong, with co-writes going to Phillips, Coleman Armstrong, Vinnie Paolizzi, Colton Venner, Jacob Hildebrand and Fred Mandujano. Musicians on the album include Phillips (acoustic guitar, banjo, bass, Mellotron, organ, pedal steel, piano, Wurlitzer and background vocals), Hildebrand (electric guitars) and Mandujano (drums, percussion).
Stream If your tired heart is aching… (out November 18) here: https://lnk.to/Ifyourtiredheartisaching
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Bo Armstrong’s “Chasing Ballads” is Old Solitary Sadness