The place and time of one’s raising can place indelible marks – and permanent scars – on some folks. Singer-songwriter Drayton Farley is like that – for him, the good that came from growing up in Alabama is what draws his mind back to his home state, even with the ghosts that remain there. On his latest album, Twenty On High, the man from Birmingham longs for home and the times that came before his chosen career sped his life up and pulled him away.
Twenty On High begins with “Stop the Clock,” the first of several references to time (and its unyielding passage) on the record. Life in Alabama wasn’t easy – “We ate whatever Daddy’d grown/Or killed to fill our plates” – but the slower pace then is what Farley still craves, maybe even more than the place itself – “Time’s a bitch I wish I’d never known/Stop the clock and take me home.” Later on, “Wasted Youth” also laments time that’s disappeared – “Wasted my youth on trying to grow up/Wasted my future, it never showed up.” This track also features nice slide work from Sadler Vaden, who produced the album and brought two fellow 400 Unit-eers with him, bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble.
Farley is aware, though, that the comforts of home come with a downside. He confesses in “Wasted Youth” that songwriting was, for him, a way out of his melancholy – “Some kind of door to get out of my head/All over the floor and under my bed.” He tackles that idea of depression even more directly in “Something Wrong (Inside My Head)” a seemingly pleasant mid-tempo tune full of internal questions – “What the hell will I do now?/I can’t even go a day without a goddamn doubt” – which is spiced up with a Peter Levin organ solo (nothing but ace players on this record).
LIke any good country record, Twenty On High ain’t without a barroom stomper or two. “Devil’s in NOLA,” with great, ragged fiddle work from Kristin Weber, celebrates (and laments) nights and places better left unspoken of – “Now lord can you save me from this place I’m in?/For the floors, they’re all painted an awful shade of sin.” And “Norfolk Blues” is a reverb-heavy rocker about a balance between work and self that can never be attained – “Money ain’t much for a beat-up heart.” But, as “The Alabama Moon” reminds us, Farley’s thoughts are never far from home. The sweetly simple acoustic tune, bolstered by lovely vocals from Katie Crutchfield (again, EVERYONE who plays on this record is amazing), finds moments of happiness on the road – “Tulsa ain’t so bad as they make Tulsa out to be” – but it’s all a placeholder – “My problem here in Tusa is that she ain’t mine to keep” – for home.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “How to Feel Again” is about as big, sweeping ballad as Farley gets. The full band and gorgeous fiddle work allow the singer to show off his voice just a bit as he finds his true home in what he does best – “We sing our own songs, we right all our wrongs/Teaching ourselves to learn how to feel again.”
Twenty On High was produced by Sadler Vaden, engineered and mixed by Matt Ross-Spang and mastered by Richard Dodd. All songs written by Drayton Farley. Additional musicians on the album include Vaden (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keys, vocals), Chad Gamble (drums, percussion), Jimbo Hart (bass guitar), Peter Levin (piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, synths), Kristin Weber (fiddle) and Katie Crutchfield (vocals).
Go here to order Twenty On High (out March 3): https://drayton-farley-merch.myshopify.com/collections/all?ffm=FFM_99106ab3d915d5d95e7a9f3669739fa1
Check out Drayton Farley tour dates here: https://draytonfarley.com/shows
Enjoy our interview with Drayton here: Key to the Highway: Drayton Farley
And with Sadler Vaden here: Key to the Highway: Sadler Vaden