Black Mesa, 2020
John Calvin Abney’s 5th album, Familiar Ground, comes at a very unique time in history, where many artists are sequestered and penning records during the country’s lockdown. In continuing with the theme of the pandemic and its repercussions, the Oklahoma resident examines mortality, and strength, especially when it comes to battling the often difficult tides of life, and his pensive and yet optimistic atmosphere sure sounds like it should soundtrack 2020.
Abney starts the album with the appropriately titled “When This Blows Over”, where folk and twang meet with Abney’s dreamy vocals suiting the warm pedal steel and cautious drumming perfectly, and “Shine Like A Friend” follows with some nods to Elliott Smith in both mood and delivery, as sunny moments meet plenty of reflection.
Further along, “Evening Tide” contains plenty of soulful ideas amid some playful pop-rock sensibilities, while “The Contractor” is a bare display of subdued beauty that’s as stirring as it imaginative. “Signs Of Weather” then offers a poetic approach of timeless folk song craft where Abney sounds like an old soul trapped in a young man’s body.
At the end, "Familiar Ground” has John Calvin Abney Jr. on acoustic guitar in an eloquent climate that’s about Abney’s father’s recent passing, and “Tokyo City Rain” exits the listen with much elegance in a hopeful execution inspired by a brief, spontaneous trip to Japan.
A record made with his longtime collaborator John Moreland, Abney built the demos on an aged Mac where he wrote on guitar, piano and Mellotron, and then sent the work to Moreland who added drums and bass. Abney would eventually place strings and synth on some tracks, and the process yields an intimate and expansive journey that may make you want to mull things over in a very positive, life-affirming sort of way.