Audio Mixer: Ben Tanner.
Recording information: Fame Studios; Single Look Studios.
Singer, songwriter, and producer John Paul White is best known to pop audiences as half of best-selling multi-Grammy winning duo Civil Wars. But he had a career long before that as a Music Row songwriter and as a solo artist. His debut, the rocking, criminally underheard Long Goodbye, was released in 2008. Beulah appears on Single Lock Records, the label White co-owns with Alabama Shakes' keyboardist Ben Tanner (his co-producer here). It was cut at his studio and the iconic Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. This is set of swampy, bluesy folk, rock, and old-school country-pop drenched in Southern Gothic.
Opener "Black Leaf" offers White's lilting tenor sparsely accompanied by fingerstyle acoustic picking and an upright piano delivering the lyric: "So bitter, in my heart and in my mouth/She's a quitter, but I guess we're both quitting now." "What's So" offers a harder rocking Delta blues intro before a murky waltz claims the tune's body as White delivers the foreboding chorus: "You don't get above your raising." He gets downright nasty in the minor-key Americana of "Make You Cry," declaring "...I want to make you cry/I want to make you hurt/I want to look in your eyes/And watch the pain start to work..." with an unnerving effortlessness. "Fight for You" melds acoustic-electric blues-rock framed by ghostly backing vocals and shimmering keyboards. The lyric is anthemic, defiant; the protagonist vows to fight for his beloved no matter what, and wants the same in return. "I've Been Over This Before" is one of the finest broken love songs White has ever written -- and he's penned plenty. A slow honky tonk shuffle guides a painful testament of resolve not to get suckered by an unfaithful lover again. The Secret Sisters provide an Owen Bradley-styled countrypolitan backing chorus as fiddle, strummed acoustic guitar, brushed snare, and hi-hat color the mix. Musically, "The Martyr" leans toward the roots pop side of country. Atop a Hammond organ, reverbed guitars, rumbling drums, and soulful backing vocals, White's passionate lyrics offer contrasting meanings: A willingness toward self-sacrifice and selflessness on one hand, and a damning knowledge of self-absorption and unwillingness to let go of resentment on the other. "Hate the Way You Love Me," with its beautiful bluegrass mandolin and fiddle breaks, measures the protagonist's inadequacy against his spouse's qualities: "You're a hard woman to live with/I could never fill those shoes, an example for our children I could never live up to.." Beulah is a hardcore Southern songwriter's album. It's chock-full seductive, attractive melodies and sweet singing, but its lyrics are searing enough in their emotional and spiritual honesty, that they cut to the bone. Great. ~ Thom Jurek