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It is a behemoth of a task to forge a long-standing career in an industry as fleeting as the ocean tides or the October harvest moon. But folk trio Jon & Roy have masterfully chugged along for more than a decade since their 2005 bow. With their seventh studio album, The Road Ahead is Golden (released June 9 on Blue Heron Music), the players wax poetic about life, self-examination and the heavy reality of relationships. “I want to leave but I hold on,” frontman Jon Middleton struggles on the title cut, a plucky Avett Brothers-built ode unravelling the ghoulish shroud which casts a malevolent shadow on a romantic entanglement. The arrangement is bedeviling and knotty, wrapping together the tender shimmer of hope with the burdensomeness of sheer existence.
That emotional thread is one of many woven together: Middleton and bandmates Roy Vizer (drums, other percussion) and Louis Sadava (bass) construct hearty meditations about breaking down and seeking out a better life. Notably, they didn’t know they were going to record an album until roughly a month out⎯so the breadth and sharpness of their narratives are colossal. “We worked really hard on this album, even though it came together quite quickly,” Middleton explained. “At this point in our career, it’s the album it seemed we were destined to make.”
From such standouts as “How the Story Goes”⎯which features Sierra Lundy on harmony and the pointed, vulnerable lyric, “I don’t know where the time goes. My heart’s getting heavy…”⎯and “When You’re Gone,” which could either illustrate the lingering embers of a relationship or the brutal inevitability of mortality, as jarring as it may be, Golden is often airy and floats between Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Patty Griffin. “Helpless and feeling like a ghost. Wear nice clothes. In this modern time, we are disconnected from ourselves in this land,” Middleton mutters in “The Better Life,” dejected but sanguine. Then, on “Window,” he lounges on the beat, locked between bewilderment and unearthing his ultimate fate. “Don’t know where we’re going. Don’t know where we’ve been,” he concludes over dusty creases of tambourine, sweltering guitar licks and seedy bass. The album is led with “Runner,” a smokey tale of lies and regrets. “You’re falling down like heavy stone through the muddy waters that you know. Dropped in another day, never saying what you ought to say,” Middleton warbles inside a steady flow of rhythm and anguish.
“I love that our songs have an ambiguity to them. Certain lines will stick out, and it may have some meaning for you, even though the song is not actually about that topic,” Middleton later shared. “Some Bob Dylan lyrics don’t make any sense whatsoever, but you make your own meaning out of them.”
Recorded out in the countryside near Victoria on Vancouver Island, the band met up with long-time co-producer Stephen Franke (Current Swell) to breathe life into the record. “Most of the tunes had been written in bits of pieces over the last year or two, but some came about [last] summer, so there is definitely a cohesiveness to this record that you will probably hear,” the band detailed of the process. The hot and sticky August sun beat down upon them⎯greenery and the chirp of nature rising and falling at their feet⎯which led to inescapable sources of insight and exhilarating prospects. Through other songs like the instrumental piece “Silent Lou,” sweet limerick “Clever One” and frothy bookend “Nothing but Everything,” Middleton, Vizer and Sadava capture the crux of weathered, torn and heartsick mankind through the filter of personal accountability and ripened experiences that can only come with age.
The Road Ahead is Golden is out now on iTunes, and you can spin below, via Spotify:
Photo Credit: Kim Jay Photography