Walking among the Living
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2005, Volume 12, #9
Written by John Metzger
Jon Randallís career as a songwriter has been filled with fits and starts. Immediately upon graduating from high school, he moved from Dallas to Nashville, but after struggling for several years to draw attention to himself, he settled for being a sideman, albeit one who worked first with Holly Dunnís band and then with Emmylou Harrisí The Nash Ramblers. Though his debut What You Donít Know was issued in 1995, it only featured one original composition, and his sophomore effort Great Day to Be Alive was shelved when his label was restructured. At least his third and fourth albums (Cold Coffee Morning and Williní) made it to market, but neither received much of a promotional push because both Asylum and Eminent went out of business.
Against all odds, Randall persevered, gradually garnering critical praise for his songwriting prowess and recently securing a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for Whiskey Lullaby, a tune that Brad Paisley covered on his 2003 outing Mud on the Tires. Therefore, with any luck, Randallís fifth endeavor Walking among the Living will be the album that puts him over the top. Granted, between its impeccably crisp production and the easy-going gentility of its melodic intonations, the 14-track collection is so understated that, at first glance, it feels like it is just another in a long line of quiet and unassuming affairs. Yet, the beauty of the tastefully organic arrangements ó which recall everyone from Jackson Browne (Baby Wonít You Come Home) to Lyle Lovett (Somebody Else) to Alison Krauss (In the Country) ó is undeniably hypnotic.
Though he largely is considered a country artist, Randall sculpted Walking among the Living from an array of roots-oriented styles, and the end result doesnít necessarily fit within either the contemporary or the conventional standards of the genre. In fact, by dabbling in folk-pop (Lonely for Awhile), bluegrass (My Life), and blues-based rock (Coming Back for More), he essentially has imbued the í70s singer/songwriter scene with the heart of a Texas-bred troubadour. Throughout the effort, he masks his tear-stained lyrics by placing them within the framework of music that is soothingly comfortable, but there is an underlying emotional core to the material that allows it to pack a hard-hitting punch. On his rearrangement of Whiskey Lullaby, for example, he utilizes a chamber string section to enhance significantly the melancholy mood of his desolately heartbroken vocals, while on North Carolina Moon, the aching sound of dobro and fiddle combine to augment the wistful ambience.
Although Walking among the Living nearly approaches 55-minutes in length, there are surprisingly few dead spots, with the subtle Lonely for Awhile being the closest thing to mediocrity on the outing. In other words, Randall has crafted a terrific, if not exactly groundbreaking, endeavor, and for the first time, his label ought to be around to support him.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box