(Lake City Records)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The threatening, billowing, dark grey clouds that populate the cover of Utah-based singer-songwriter Tanner’s album, and drift across his webpage ryantannermusic.com accurately reflect the unsettled music and lyrics of his songs, even if the visuals contradict the disc’s hopeful title.
The majority of these tracks — recorded over a long weekend in August 2016, mixed in a day, and quickly released with no fanfare — are stripped way down to just softly strummed guitar or subtle piano, with occasional assistance from backing singer Kiki Jane Sieger who plays Emmylou Harris to Tanner’s Gram Parsons. It’s a striking, lovely, beautifully crafted return for Tanner who hasn’t been particularly prolific after winning the Grand Prize for American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest back in 2010.
From the heartbreaking tale of a person who buries their lover after what seems to be a long illness, sung with a Neil Young-styled tremble in “Disappear” to the story of a long marriage slowly crumbling apart over years in “The Only Thing I Know,” there isn’t a lot of light shining through the darkness of these achingly introspective songs.
Even if titles such as “Promised Land,” “Anywhere the Wind Blows,” “Apple of My Eye,” and “Someday” seem to be songs you might have heard before, these 9 originals (and in the closing “The Price You Pay,” one almost painfully penetrating Springsteen cover) take the somewhat clichéd titles into deeply reflective, contemplative territory. The promise of young love is explored in the relatively upbeat “Apple …” but the vast majority of these ballads — and they are all ballads — tread into far less joyful areas. But even in the darkest moment, Tanner’s sublime, subtle and emotional voice, along with lyrics such as “tonight I’m buzzing like a neon sign/ walking in the Nashville rain” that show why he won top wordsmith honors, create mini-movies you’ll want to mull over, sink into and ultimately play again.
Perhaps a few more tightly wound selections such as the impending flood and doom telescoped by eerie background voices and an intimidating thumping bass on the gripping “Warmth of the Sun” would bring more diversity to the set. Regardless, these songs take you places you may not want to go, but do that through the fined tuned talents of a songwriter who we have not heard enough from. Hopefully that will change if Promised Land gets the exposure it deserves.