september 2009

Young Man's Blues
By David McGee

Brandon Rickman
Rural Rhythm

Let's face it. A young man worrying about turning 30 and lamenting how fast the years have flown by, observing the first fleck of grey in his hair, well, in certain quarters this fellow is not going to engender much sympathy. Say hello to the Lonesome River Band's Brandon Rickman as he presents himself on his first solo outing, Young Man, Old Soul. Having distinguished himself a guitarist and singer with the celebrated LRB, Rickman means to bring his album title to life in a collection of songs that, had they been sequenced in a different order, would have played like a musical roman à clef, a portrait of the artist coming to grips with adulthood, keenly aware of time's relentless march and what The Honeymooners' resident philosopher Ralph Kramden called "the glorious results of a misspent youth," only in this case it's not meant to be funny. This narrative thread is present anyway, in a tale told both in flashback and in real time, with Rickman as an omniscient narrator blessed with rueful 20/20 hindsight. Suffusing his Main Street-like tour of people and places that shaped him, and he them, is an abiding melancholy triggered by a sudden awareness—epiphany, if you will—of the artist/narrator's complicity in others' pain, and with that an almost fevered desired to recapture the lost years in order to repair the damage done. In this context, the first three songs set the stage for the backwards hurtle through time and memory: the brisk, banjo-fired (the Rage's Aaron McDaris is outstanding) "Always Have, Always Will" (by the SteelDrivers' Chris Stapleton), a scene setter in which the narrator explains how his devotion to alcohol outweighed even his love for the woman who finally left him, saying in a note, "You know why"; "Rain and Snow," being the laments of a man whose wife has tossed him out for reasons unexplained (but maybe suggested by the theme of the song preceding it), rendered dark and threatening by Rickman's emotional vocal and prickly guitar accompaniment supplemented by an agitated, protesting fiddle and keening harmony courtesy Jenee' Fleener; and Rickman's graceful country ballad, "Here Comes That Feeling Again," chronicling the enduring ache of lost love, its contrasting, bright musical lope driven by McDaris's steady rolling banjo lines and Fleener's soothing fiddle moans. Exactly where Tammy Rogers's whimsical "I Bought Her a Dog" fits into this theory is open to question, but it's at least a comic interlude, a strutting, wry tale of a man who escaped parenthood by buying his wife a dog instead. (It also sounds like a great Brad Paisley cover.)

From there the overriding focus of the album is told in key lines from the songs: "Lord how time slips away" ("Dime Store Rings"); "Wish I could go back through the years and dry up all the tears" ("Wearin' Her Knees Out"); "An old familiar feeling waits around the bend" ("I Take the Backroads"); "It's not my age that scares me, it's how fast I got here" ("So Long 20's"); "The further I got the more I found/Me wishing I was still around/And missing the only place I'll ever call home" ("Wide Spot In the Road"); "You can't go back and I know that, but if I could somehow, I might've stayed a little longer, loved a little stronger, done right where I done wrong" ("What I Know Now," a gripping guitar-and-vocal reading made doubly potent by the deeply personal nature of Rickman's abject admission of thoughtless behavior).

Produced by Rickman and Jimmy Metts, Young Man, Old Soul is admirably subdued in mood and temperament, without sacrificing a smidgen of energy or urgency. With instrumental support from the stellar likes of the Grascals' Terry Eldridge and Jamie Johnston, the aforementioned Aaron McDaris, and the artist's LRB cohort Mike Anglin, among others, Rickman doesn't miss an opportunity to let the music soar. At the same time, many of the album's most penetrating moments are simple, austere guitar and vocal arrangements. One such exemplary performance is the last, on Jerry Salley's "Wearin' Her Knees Out Over Me," a heartfelt apologia for a thoughtless young man whose behavior hurt everyone close to him, except the mother who never stopped praying for his reclamation. The deep feeling in Rickman's emotive tenor betrays the singer's ceaseless remorse at his mother not being around to see him back on track, and to his pained reflections Jerry Salley himself and Val Storey add comforting harmonies.

That redemption is in the offing is at the least implicit in the strivings articulated in two gospel songs: in the bluegrass gospel of Carter Stanley's "Let Me Walk, Lord By Your Side," with Andy Ball adding forceful mandolin interjections, Rickman cries out, "Steer me on the righteous pathway/Help me humbly to abide...," and in the smooth gospel blues of "Rest For the Workers," the lyrics look forward to the day when "our hands no more will carry the heavy tools of life/And rest for His workers there will be." Both songs look forward to a day whose arrival no one can foretell or foresee, but in casting his gaze on the far horizon of eternity, Brandon Rickman's Main Street is transformed into one paved with gold. Figuring he knows what he needs to do from here on out, we wish him Godspeed in making the next three decades a bountiful feast of good deeds and righteous living, and in benediction grant him permission to lighten up. Because if he thought the first 30 years went by in a flash, brother, he ain't seen nothin' yet.


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024