If there is one album I regret not being able to discuss from this platform, it is Jason Eady’s 2014 masterpiece Daylight and Dark. That year, everyone everywhere was giving sturgill Simpson album of the Year awards, but if Country Exclusive had existed, that distinction would have belonged to Eady and without question. I know this is quite an endorsement, but that record was better than any ten I have reviewed here to date, and if you haven’t listened to it, you are doing only yourself a disservice at the amount of stellar songwriting and true country music you’re missing. All that to say, how do you follow something like Daylight and Dark, and then, how do you give it a fair rating? Well, Jason Eady’s answer was this–to strip everything down and make an album that, aside from some steel guitar, could be played entirely without electricity. My answer was not so easy, but as I’ve listened, the beauty in these songs has spoken for itself in a way that does indeed follow Daylight and dark nicely, even if I couldn’t quite see it at first.
“Barabbas” may be one of the most brilliant instances of songwriting we’ve seen yet in 2017, and Jason eady opens the album with this. Of course it’s stripped down, but since the whole record is, this feels like a redundant point to continue making throughout the rest of the record. As for the lyrics, Eady tells the story of the pardoned man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus yet, aside from the title, never mentions Barabbas, Jesus, or anything religious, thereby making the song relatable and universal, a story for all but still holding a deeper connection for those of faith. “drive” was previously performed by the Trishas and written by Eady, Jamie Lin Wilson and Kelley Micwee, but this is an entirely different, more upbeat track; the song tells the story of someone driving away from an ex and letting go of the pain, “looking for a lighter shade of blue.” “Black Jesus” tells of the friendship formed long ago between a white man and a black man; the black man taught the white man the blues, and the white man taught him Hank and Willie Nelson. Now, years later, the white man sings about their friendship and how one day, they will meet again. The song does a good job explaining the message without being preachy; you get the point that we’re all the same in the eyes of God without it being spelled out, and the story told is better than sermon. We need stories like this more, especially in today’s culture. “NO genie in This Bottle” is your typical classic country drinking song, as Eady searches for answers to his life in a bottle. The steel guitar I mentioned before makes this song–oh yeah, that’s Lloyd Maines playing it, and also, that’s Vince Gill adding harmony. This song is very much a case of less is more, and hearing it will do much more than reading my words. “Why I Left Atlanta,” the lead single, is quite similar thematically to Drive.” If I had to pick a song on this record that didn’t stand out in the context of the album, it would ironically be this one, but that’s not much of a criticism when the rest of the album is this great.
“Rain” is a simple, upbeat little song; again, it could be religiously minded but isn’t necessarily, inviting the rain to come and cleanse him. Eady has a talent for calling to mind religious symbolism and imagery in a way that draws parallels for so many without alienating others. It’s good songwriting because so much more comes across in these words–again, less is more. Next, we have Eady’s version of “Where I’ve Been.” My favorite is still the duet from Something Together, but since Eady wrote this, a recording of it from him was long overdue. Credit to Eady and Courtney Patton for making each version quite unique, and credit to Eady for writing a song worthy of three separate versions because it’s just that damn special. “Waiting to Shine” is probably the most lighthearted moment on the record–I already reviewed this song, but basically it’s a song comparing words to diamonds “buried in the bottom of the coal just waiting to shine.” Jason states that “finders are keepers, and I’ll take all the keepers I can find.” For what it’s worth, that strategy paid off in spades on this album. The album closes with two personal songs for Eady; the first is “Not Too Loud,” a song about his daughter and watching her grow up, and the second about all the things he has learned after forty years. The beauty in both of these songs is twofold; they are obviously deeply personal and real for Jason Eady, and yet people everywhere will be able to relate to them both.
This record is one of those that jumps out on the first listen as a good, solid album. But then, as you dig deeper, and the songs begin to speak, and each unique, hidden, sneaky turn of phrase starts to hit you, the greatness of this album starts to shine through. And the fact that the record is stripped down, allowing for this kind of reflection and introspection, is part of the genius that allows these songs to grow. It’s a songwriter’s album, and yet it’s simple and relatable throughout. Add to all this, it’s nothing but country from start to finish, and you have another excellent album from Jason Eady.