It’s too infrequent these days in the Americana world that a record just allows you to lose yourself in it. Too many are out there trying to pen the next version of Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” or so roiling us up with vitriolic angst for the state of the world, you end up more agitated than sated after listening. Nothing wrong with that material at all. There’s a time and place for everything. But that enterprise too often saps the joy out of the musical experience as melody and bottom line appeal get suppressed for overwrought artistic expressions.
Sometimes you just want to listen to something to help pass the time on a long drive, or to chill out to, but something that is still smartly composed. That’s what you get from Great Peacock’s latest album Forever Worse Better. Reminding you of all your old favorite alt-country records from folks like the Drive-By Truckers, Old 97’s, and Reckless Kelley where the songs just work, this album takes well-written lyrics and pairs them with sensible affects from across the country and rock real to make an enjoyable and widely-appealing experience.
One of those bands that maybe you’ve heard of or maybe you haven’t, the Nashville-based Great Peacock has been logging some 100 shows a year, performing what you could characterize as Southern rock, Americana, or alt-country, not because its rendered indefinable, but because it will find appeal across all of these genre lines. Great Peacock likes to say that it’s a Southern approach to heartland rock, which may not be a bad definition. With such quality melodies and song ideas, call it what you want. It’s just good.
Consisting of frontman and guitarist Andrew Nelson, guitarist and harmony vocalist Blount Floyd, and bass player Frank Keith IV, the trio has been hacking away at it for over half a decade. Producing Forever Worse Better themselves, they laid down most of the basic tracks at the Sound Emporium in Nashville, but then ponied up for their own sound equipment to do overdubs and such at home, allowing them the patience and flexibility to get the right takes on the right songs without being rushed, which you can hear in the finished product.
Joining the trio was Sadler Vanden of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, helping to give the album that quintessential contemporary Americana flavor. They also brought in steel guitar Adam “Ditch” Kurtz, best known recently for working with American Aquarium, though Adam has played all over the place (and incidentally, has been releasing his own songs, and a fun steel guitar Randy Travis tribute called Storms of Steel). Some steel and fiddle on the album give Forever Worse Better just enough country flavor to keep it honest and grounded.
This is one of those records you cue up and don’t skip a track. Written by Andrew Nelson mostly while traveling on the road, many of the song have that in-transit feel to them, filled with the introspective thoughts that fill one’s head while on a long haul. Sure, there’s probably no equivalent to Isbell’s “Elephant” to be found here. But on the song “High Wind” when Nelson sings, “I ain’t afraid of dying. I want to ride that high wind. I’m afraid of barely being alive,” you feel that.
The final song “Learning To Say Goodbye” tricks you into believing it’s going to be a sedated, acoustic ender, but becomes arguably the most immersive track on an immersive record. Everything’s in the right place here, and even when they go out on a limb with a certain guitar tone or take that may not fit your ear, you’re more apt to forgive it than have it ruin the moment because everything is so well-blended, from how the lyrics match the music, to how the music strikes the intended mood.
Forever Worse Better doesn’t try to change music as we know it. And thank goodness for that. It’s just good American-based roots music that takes little effort to enjoy even though a lot of effort went into it, reminding you why you became a dedicated music fan in the first place.
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