Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen and Nick Luca
We're constantly being pushed back, blown in reverse into the very detailed and completed past - a time that's already been written and stained with all of our flubs, gambles and Hail Marys. The stains will never come out and some of the stains aren't even unsightly, just stains, as we could consider the fingerprints smeared against a perfectly clean, glass windowpane. It's all of the markings to make it very known that we were there, for better or for worse. They seem to whisper out to us all the time and they're the most active subjects in the alterations that are made to our sleep and our sleeplessness. These times that we've already had are equally vocal in our stammering and in our overzealousness - one prompting us to slow down and think about this for a minute and the other offering the suggestion to just swing for the fences and try to find that sweet replication out there amongst the tall woods and the breathless skylines. The Romany Rye, a band primarily built around songwriter Luke MacMaster and his newly pegged band The Natives (formerly Christopher Denny's backing band, all from the state of Arkansas), embodies this tugging and torn affliction that is shared with the past and the present. MacMaster, on two occasions when writing about the songs that he recorded here with buddies/roommates in Delta Spirit and more at New Monkey, Elliott Smith's old studio in Van Nuys, Calif., is mostly approached with the saccharine sensations of what once was - largely the places and the people touched, but most importantly those places and people who touched back. That's what's most haunting and it's what's always been most haunting, for all of us, we realize, when we let ourselves get right down to it. We're blessed and cursed by where we've been before and who we've been with. We drink sometimes, I think, because we've got that memory of that one deep, drink-heavy night long ago when we were gathered in an ideal evening with all of our dear friends and the bottles didn't ever completely empty and nobody went home. It just spread out from dinner until dawn and the bottle of wine that's now beside you in an empty house reminds you of then and urges you to reclaim some of that, even as the night is knowingly hopeless or dead. MacMaster sings on "Long Way Down, "Cheap reds and burgundy, the stale smell of mystery/Think no one here is quite what they seem." It speaks to a different kind of a night, but still to one where it's possibly just a party of one and there are more than a majority of fingers getting pointed back at the instigator. It means that there's a weariness loitering and there's no real way to make it subside, other than getting buzzed, reclining away and drifting back to some of those salad days where happiness was incurable and our bodies were younger.
MacMaster is a classic songwriter, at heart, writing songs that are rumblers, toned by the rainy days and a weepy, but hardly withered soul. "Dear Holly" is a beauty about a woman, maybe, but certainly about a man, whose "tears have turned to blood." He happens to be a man who's thinking about the hows and whys of his slow decline into an aged and bitter person cursing the heavens, or at the least, looking at them emptily and wishing for some kind of sign. There's "no harvest, no kingdom come," in this song and MacMaster sings, "If love is a language, I'll cut out my tongue," and early on referring to himself as "a ghost town with seven empty lakes." It's not a character who's contented, who's sitting pretty, just a character who's getting by, little-by-little, but finding the tiniest of bright spots stuck to the bottoms of his shoes. He peels them off the soles and tries to revive them, the process as heartbreaking and lovely as any out there.