Love Rides a Dark Horse
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Don’t you know, there is no evermore,” Gill Landry talk/sings on the hypnotic, atmospheric “Denver Girls,” the opening to his fourth solo release. Those somber words are indicative of the tone established through the remaining eight selections.
Since 2015’s self-titled release, Landry left the relative security of the popular roots band Old Crow Medicine Show and suffered a tough breakup with a one-time fiancée. That forced a reevaluation of his life and the introspective, generally dark songs that pour out of him on this album try to both make sense of the past few years and look forward to a new start. It’s a “map out of the darkness,” he says in the disc’s promotional notes.
Song cycles about broken relationships from moody singer-songwriters are almost a cliché at this point. But when you hear Landry’s looming yet subtle baritone — somewhere between Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and Dave Alvin — unspool stories of broken hearts, there isn’t a predictable or insincere moment to be found. He’s aware of this as he states “Just another story/ seems like the only one they know … the actors you may recognize” after the crying pedal steel that opens the self-descriptive “Broken Hearts.”
In that way, these tunes are nearly cinematic in their approach, taking time to unwind at their own pace like a foreign film that gradually gets under your skin. That’s the model he follows for selections such as “The Real Deal Died,” a simmering ballad that creeps along on somber organ, pedal steel and Landry’s expressive vocals that don’t even arrive until half of the five minute track has elapsed.
In this era of “don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” Landry digs in to fashion a set of pensive ruminations meant to be absorbed and appreciated in the atmosphere they were created. Some don’t even have an obvious chorus. Even the first single/video “Berlin,” which is slightly jauntier, is a melancholy tale of a man walking through the titular city “on a twisted cloud of gin” looking for “unknown pleasures” while reflecting on a ruined love.
On Love Rides a Dark Horse, Landry crafts beautifully, often heartbreaking scenarios played out over rootsy, Americana folk/country ballads that, even with the somewhat shadowy subject matter, are conceived from a hopeful heart. Sure, there is built-in sadness, but these shimmering tracks also reveal a spirit intent on looking ahead and putting the disappointments of the past behind without wallowing in the self-pity that often drowns other similarly themed projects.