Artist: John Paul White
Release date: August 2016
Favorite track: "Black Leaf"
“Beulah” lured me in instantly with the sinister acoustic notes of “Black Leaf” and John Paul White’s smooth-as-molasses vocals. Civil Wars who?
I’m kidding. Although, White — a former member of the Americana duo Civil Wars — definitely has a strong talent for songwriting and the vocal chops to put out award-winning records on his own.
White recently performed at The Imogene Theatre in Milton, and I haven’t stopped listening to his solo album since. I’ve also made it my responsibility to inform everyone I know that “Beulah” exists.
If you like Civil Wars’ music, you will like this. If you like good music, you will like this, too.
“Beulah” is the raw, gritty inner workings of White’s mind. When I interviewed him for DN in February, he explained how the songs involuntarily poured from his soul like a faucet. You can tell.
“Beulah” is a dark glimpse into White’s Southern upbringing, starting with “Black Leaf.” The title refers to Black Leaf 40, a chemical insecticide White’s father used on their farm, according to an NPR article.
“What’s So” is along the same vein, explaining how White was raised to work hard and deny pride and accomplishment. I think it’s a track with which many will identify.
Hole in the road
Sun on your back
Shoulder the load
Your ancestors passed
Wear on your sleeve
The virtues you lack
But don’t get above your raising
— “What’s So”
Lyrics seem central to the album, until White’s kind, ethereal vocals unfold in “The Once and Future Queen” and “Make You Cry.” While the music keeps a steady pace and somber mood, a nuance unravels in each track.
“Fight for You” is as it sounds, combative. It flaunts more passion and gravel to White’s voice — something I would like to hear live.
“Hope I Die” is the most versatile track, starting off like an alt-rock experiment and ending like a tragic movie score with orchestral accompaniment. It’s beautifully sad.
“I’ve Been Over this Before” is the only collaborative track. It features The Secret Sisters, who White said he grew up near. This will satiate the cravings of those who hunger for the Civil Wars’ harmonies.
“Hate the Way You Love Me” is ideal for those who prefer a little more country in their folk. The fiddle at the four-minute mark is flawless.
The album concludes with the dreamy, gloomy track “I’ll Get Even,” which has nothing to do with revenge. The lyrics are about measuring up to someone else’s standards and your own.
This album art is whimsical, yet grounded — much like White’s music.
The drooping tree branches with specks of color look doomful plastered across the abstract light blue sky. The freckles of pink, red and yellow add a playful touch.
The tree branches creep onto the back of the album sleeve, which lists the songs in the perfect delicate font.
This design would make a lovely mural on a brick wall downtown somewhere.
Hey, I'm Savannah. I collect records, and they collect dust. Like my preferred media form, I strive to not become obsolete. I created Off the Record as a way to turn my mind inside out, into something visual and tangible. One is the loneliest number, so I asked my friends to join.