After a snippet of “The Preacher and the Slave” and the sound of amps warming up M. Lockwood Porter and band kick into a rocking rumination on the current state of the American Dream. “American Dream Denied” is a bold choice for an opener for an artist whose considerable strength lies mostly in his well constructed lyrics and mastery of delicate melodies. It’s a fitting intro to an album that might be a bit more angry than the previous album, 27, and it shows that Porter is as comfortable with loud guitars as he is with the gently picked beauty of “Bright Star” two tracks later.
Since Porter relocated from Oklahoma to San Francisco (with a pit stop at Yale) in 2009 I have been fortunate enough to catch him playing live on a semi regular basis. Due to that my first expierience with many of these songs has been in a live context often times at solo shows. It’s a pleasure to hear the fleshed out arrangements and contributions of band members Peter Labberton (Drums), Bevan Herbekian (Bass), Jeff Hasfield (Keys) as well as various guitar contributions from John Calvin Abney. The band’s ability to add flavor to Porter’s songs without overshadowing the frontman is in fine display on tracks like “Strong Enough”, one of the standout tracks on record. That being said Porter also knows when less is more such as the sparse “Reach the Top”.
Tracks like “Joe Hill’s Dream”, “The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be” and the frustrated “Charleston” ( “I know I barely understand / and I know my skin is white / but my father once told me / the guy who never questions how or why / can’t see the gap between what’s wrong and right”) all mine some of the same lyrical territory that starts the album off. The blend of disillusion and defiant hope is the perfect message for the time we live in. The album isn’t entirely political in nature but it does explore these waters a fair amount. He even offers an explanation of himself on “Sad / Satisfied” (Am I a coward to keep singing songs of sadness and love / with so much blood in the streets, so many bombs up above”). The album closes with the mirror image of the lead off track “Dream Again” a soaring lullaby that leaves us with a little bit of light to move forward with.
I often compare M. Lockwood Porter to the Old 97’s, mostly because his voice is articulate and perfect for delivering the blend of twangy folk and pop goodness that both bands share. I realized after listening to “How to Dream Again” a great many times on a road trip that the other reason I cite the 97’s is the comfort that both bring to me. This record (like 27) is one that I find reassuring and easy to listen to. It has a calming effect both sonically and lyrically that is hard to find other places. It’s not a Saturday night album, it’s not a Sunday morning album, but it seems perfect when you’re driving alone for long stretches of road and you want a trusted companion to have a chat with.