Over nine vintage-sounding country songs, Earl sings about the Delta breeze, running down the road in a Ford Econoline and the price of leaving, but never quite takes his eyes off the rear-view mirror.
1. I Saw The Arkansas
2. White Painted Trees
3. Learning (What Leaving Means)
4. Blessing in Disguise
7. One More Time
8. I Know I'm Not The One
9. Johnny Alabama
Dylan’s Earl's first album with Arkansas label Gar Hol Records, I Saw the Arkansas, is rooted in The Natural State and bristles with restless energy. Over nine vintage-sounding country songs, Earl sings about the Delta breeze, running down the road in a Ford Econoline and the price of leaving, yet never quite taking his eyes off the rear-view mirror.
In his case, the rear-view presents both indicators of place and Americana and country music traditions. The protagonists in Earl’s songs wear scuffed boots and search for meaning under neon signs, while rarely straying far from outlaw country themes, musical and cultural. He kicks up dirt and burns “a spliff in the middle of the road in the morning sun” in ‘White Painted Trees’, and drifts on the river’s waves and looks to the moon for clues on the title track.
I Saw the Arkansas offers more in the way of atmosphere than definitive statements, as Earl establishes a signature sound defined by his remarkable voice and his band’s easy chemistry. Pedal steel guitar and swelling piano rolls combine compellingly with his rich, deep baritone.
“There was a chance, but I didn’t take it,” Earl croons on ‘Learning (What Leaving Means),’ an easy shuffle tailor-made for two-stepping. He’s likewise still learning and yearning on ‘Blessing in Disguise,’ an aching lament which looks for solace in both the bottle and prayer.
If his gear isn’t in drive, it’s in swagger, as Earl finds another bar stool on ‘One More Time,’ contemplating love while admitting his failures, but stopping short of an outright apology.
He doubles down on the bandit-with-a-conscious ethos in the album closer, ‘Johnny Alabama,’ an up-tempo character study of a hard-drinking, womanizing rambler. With evocative lyrics about stuffed boots and New Orleans, the track would be at home on a Highwaymen record. “To me now home is but a memory / Some say soon to fade with time,” he intones, again looking in the rear-view mirror as he moves forward, owning up to his wandering ways and their toll, but showing no sign of giving them up.
After all his seeking and running to new towns, that stance starts to wear thin. He’s writing about searching without actually searching for anything more than a different bar. While Earl’s vibe and music is more than sound on I Saw the Arkansas, the songs would be even more powerful with signs of actual transformation.
Dylan Earl's 2023 album, I Saw the Arkansas, is released March 10th via Gar Hole Records. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below: