Produced by Texas singer/songwriter Robert Ellis (who also plays on the album), Young Man is the first album by the Texas quintet led by founder members Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay to be recorded in a proper studio, featuring fiddle on all tracks, and no electric guitar. Anchored around theme that life doesn’t last forever and we must make the most of every moment and experience afforded us as well as the wisdom that comes with age, it opens, quite literally howling at the moon with ‘Coyote’, a song very much in the softly brushed cowboy campfire country vein of ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ complete with Spanish guitar bridge.
The pace picks up for the strummed title track, an Oh Brother-flavoured gospel-folk reflection on growing older (“Where did the young man go/The one in the water that I used to know/When did he lose that fire/Did he just grow old/Did he just grow tired”), a theme carried over into the slightly swampier, spookier sung ‘Moving Man’ with its lyric about a restless spirit (“I’m a ship that’s meant to be sailing/I’m a hand I gotta roll the dice/Ohh I never thought a minute/Would be this hard to hold/Even though my poppa told me/Son you look up and you’re old”).
The quest to achieve or find a dream there also surfaces with the slow shuffling, pedal steel sparkling travelling song ‘Northbound’ (“They say there’s a Mecca high up in the hills/Where the strings ring out and it gives you chills/And as soon I heard I set my mind to getting there”), extending to the idea that life’s a long journey “But I’ve heard that if it’s good it’s worth the wait” so “Best sit back enjoy the ride”.
The pace picks up ever so slightly, but still maintaining a swayalong walking beat on ‘These Days’, again striking a reflective note (“Pacing the halls of my youth”) and musing on the passing of the years as “the grains start to slip through your hand”. Likewise, the simple chugged strum, dusty vocal ‘One Step Forward’ is again about dissatisfaction (“Try to be thankful for the time that I’ve had/Spent with my boys and their momma too/Try to enjoy it but it’s hard to do”) and missing the moment because “I’m always looking/But I’m missing the view/In my head it’s better and it’s greener too/I’m chasing greener ‘til it’s turned me blue”, as you’re taking “One step forward/Two steps back”.
Living life in a hurry to get to an unknown destination can burn you up, hence the exhortation of the banjo-chugged toe tapping ‘Slow It Down’ to stop and smell the roses or “Take a ride in the ole blue moon/Hear that diesel humming/Singing songs by the crackling fire/Get your guitar strumming along”.
It ends with, first, the fingerpicked folk blues ‘The Way It Was Back Then’ with another observation of always being in a hurry (“Walking past a construction sign/And in the midst of feeling fine/I recalled that things are always changing/We can’t seem to let it be/We’re manifest anxiety/And we work hard to keep on rearranging”) in the blind pursuit of progress as we sweep away the past (“Men with big ‘ol cookie jars/And alligator leather on the armrest/They found my favorite bar in town/They bellied up/And they tore it down/Had themselves a drink and called it progress”). Returning to that Oh Brother sound, it’s followed on a similar note by the slow march ‘Old Man Looking Back’ with its theme of age-worn wisdom and impetuous youth (“Young man tell me what do you know/You ain’t even seen your children grow/Young man I’ve been down that way/And you may not listen to a word I say/You got fire and I got time”) and “The days are long but they never last” before closing with the close dirt country harmonies of ‘Working On Love’ and its celebration of the land and a simple life, cultivating the things that really matter, “Diggin in the soil getting dirt on the hands/I’m working on love like I’m working on the land”.
Clay and Chance started writing songs together when they were fifteen, forming the duo in 2010. Both are now in their mid-30s, so it seems, perhaps, a little early for a mid-life crisis and contemplating old age, but then again the past two years have given many a pause to stop and consider how their journeys have gone, the dreams and impulsiveness of younger days and about putting into perspective what holds true worth in life. With a title that almost inevitably calls to mind Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, on which he explored similar concerns, this could well prove their most fruitful harvest.
Artists’ website: www.jamestownrevival.com
‘Young Man’ – live: