John Calvin Abney
Nowadays, John Calvin Abney knows to look for the quiet.
Through a decade’s worth of maturation, thousands of shows, and hundreds of thousands of miles, Abney’s in-between moments are spent in thought, putting words and chords to tape.
He spent much of 2017 on the road, whether on guitar and keys for John Moreland or on solo trips across the country to play and to reconnect with a vast network of musical friends across the country. Highlights from the whirlwind year include performing as Moreland's dedicated sideman at the legendary Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, and accompanying Moreland and John Prine for an encore song in Birmingham, Alabama.
Meanwhile, Abney has recorded a personal album of reflections on change and realization, titled Coyote, at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock. The album will be released in May 2018 and is the anticipated follow-up to Abney’s 2016 LP, Far Cries and Close Calls, a single from which PopMatters.com called “instantly memorable” and that drew rightful comparisons to longtime influence Elliott Smith.
His fans may know him for his freneticism onstage as a side man, or for being a preternaturally gifted and joyful instrumentalist, but Abney’s songwriting has evolved swiftly over the course of a few short years. He’s prolific, having released new and sometimes vastly different work every year except 2017, and that pause is key.
Coyote has a distinct sense of place, of loneliness and love. The album is spacious and steady, and it comes at the heels of Abney taking a much-needed breath to process those experiences, a journey listeners can hear in real time.
The record opens with the twinkling standout “Always Enough,” establishing the theme of wincing optimism that carries through the rest of Coyote. “My blood was red, but I worried it black / Plans to ashes, promises to dust,” he sings, before resolving with, “There’s nowhere to go but up from here.” The rest of side A meanders with Abney: “Cowboys and Canyon Queens” has him looking back at Oklahoma—and all the gravity that entails—while the lazy shuffle “Get Your House in Order” has a humorous bent, eyeing the similarities between Abney and his travel-weary friends. Later, “South Yale Special” marks a departure from Tulsa and a subsequent period of transience. The simple organ arrangements and pedal steel on “Sundowner” haunt the crushing lament on missing someone, “I’d kill all these miles for you.” And finally, Abney finds himself at home on “Leslie Lane,” a string-heavy, instrumental lullaby.
In all the madness, Abney seems to have found moments of calm where none was apparent. And on “Coyote,” he’s chronicled that search and his resolutions with a hushed clarity.