[Rating: 4 stars]
Gloryland, Gordon’s first album since 2005, serves as a reminder to what a wonderful writer he is. There’s a powerful literary quality to his songs (he’s a published poet) that often feels like short stories brought to life with music. The two standout tracks, “Colfax/Step In Time” and “Bus To Shreveport,” are excellent examples of Southern fiction. The former, which runs over 10 minutes, recalls Gordon’s time in a Southern high school marching band, which was led by a black man. The tune turns from colorful memories to something more serious when the Klan arrives (“in their white dunce caps”) with a chilling effect. “Bus To Shreveport,” another coming-of-age tale, concerns a wild roadtrip, when at age 12 he went to go see a ZZ Top concert (“at the worst sounding arena in the whole United States”) with his uncle Randy and his uncle’s buddy Hank. Again, the story takes a dangerous turn with Hank getting beaten up by several Latino guys until Randy scares them off with a pistol.
This disc is populated with vivid tales that Gordon delivers with a dark twist. “Side of the Road” starts with a simple childhood memory of seeing a field of white cotton but ends up taking the listener to the perilous roadsides of war-torn regions like Baghdad and Basra. “Trying To Get To Memphis” floats along on an easy soulful groove that masks the song’s underlying modern day dilemma – can you trust the stranger who comes to your door with a hard-luck story? Gordon, with some regrets, sides with the neighborhood watch captain’s more fearful advice over Jesus’ sense of altruism.
Moments of lightness do appear in the prominently dark-hued Gloryland. The “Pecolia’s Star” offers a gentle ode to the African American folk artist Pecolia Warner, while “The One I Love,” wraps up the disc on an upbeat note. This rousing rocker reaffirms the power of love, particularly in today’s times where people “got no say in how this big world runs.” This song also reinforces how Gordon nicely uses his rugged Southern roots rock arrangements to underscore the drama of his lyrics. A track like “Black Dog, ” for instance, builds to a guitar squall that fits the turbulent story.
Gordon’s vocals frequently bring to mind another sharp-eyed songwriter, the late Warren Zevon. There’s also a hint of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” when Gordon intones “You might be a preacher” in the opening lines of the title track, while the bleak American portraits recall Springsteen too. While these singer-songwriters serve as touchstones, Gordon definitely shines here as a writer who tells these Southern-based tales so exquisitely that they resonate with his listeners (be they from the South or not). Gloryland certainly stands as a glorious example of Americana songwriting.