Goodnight, Texas - A Long Life of Living
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2012
Goodnight, Texas is a duo featuring Avi Vinocour (formerly of The Stone Foxes) and Patrick Dyer Wolf. Avi Vinocur hails from San Francisco. Patrick Dyer Wolf calls Chapel Hill, NC home. Goodnight, Texas (yes, it's a real town) is the city equidistant between both cities. A Long Life of Living, a transcontinental collaboration no less, is their debut record. And hot damn, it's incredible. The album's lead single is "Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine," an earthy and dusty mandolin-fueled tale that is as funereal as it gets. Relating the yarn of a fiancee who meets his fate in a West Virginia mine it is nothing short of stunning. But like any good band, their body of work is far more than just an engaging single.
Album opener "I'm Going to Work on Maggie's Farm Forever," is a barreling roots-rocker that draws on a road-weary harmonica solo and ruminates a life spent in manual labor. Poignant, piercing and deeply moving it is just the first of many minor miracles that dot the landscape of A Long Life of Living. As long as music has been recorded, songwriters have always rattled off at least one song about heartbreak and on the whiskey-drenched "Harmony," Goodnight, Texas do exactly that. Though lyrically it doesn't offer up anything new it is as indelible and timeless as it gets. As if to make amends for the lack of lyrical substance, the band puts its best foot forward on the title track "Car Parts and Linens," a prose-like ballad about a lover willing to sacrifice it all to keep her romance alive. In four sweet minutes, Goodnight, Texas have created a song that is everything music should be: personal, profound and deeply passionate.
On the elegiac "Old St. John," the duo sounds as fractured and fragile as the titular character the song is built around. The best tunes are always built on engaging and realistic characters and in "Old St. John," Goodnight, Texas have indeed crafted such a person. A man who abandons his children for Santa Fe and calls himself "the hand of God," he is just the tortured kind of character we hear about in novels, and if we're lucky, ballads. For all the memorable characters we often hear about, it is songs about places that are some of the easiest to relate to. At present, there's a laundry list of gems that have dotted the landscape of both commercial radio and those far below the radar. On the deeply moving "California, You're a Hole In My Heart," Wolf sings with a timeless sincerity that is equal parts mesmerizing, hypnotic and pristine. A Long Life of Living is a great album, but "California, You're a Hole In My Heart," is a song like very few of its contemporaries. If you only listen to one song from Goodnight, Texas, please take four minutes and sit down with its infinite grace. After Wolf sings about Vinocur's home state, Vinocur sings of Wolf's home state on "Chapel Hill." As one might expect it does little to disappoint and is arguably Wolf's best song on the album. Layered, richly textured and ruminative, it is a song Vinocur can proudly hang his hat on.
Like many roots-rock projects, A Long Life of Living is mostly a down-tempo affair. But thankfully, the disc does have a few uptempo numbers. The rising "Submarines," is a backwoods sendup in which the protagonist dreams of a bigger and more lucrative life. If A Long Life of Living has a second commercial hit, then "Submarines," is probably it. The Dylan-esque "Plan of Attack," is brief, bright and brilliant; the laid-back "Meet Me By the Smokestack," is playful, vernal and certain to be a crowd-pleaser. But of all the uptempo numbers, none are as engaging as the acoustic blues of the searing quasi-instrumental "The Railroad." And it is there in those five minutes that Goodnight, Texas makes all the sense in the world. With call-and-repeat verses, handclaps and stomps, it is everything that roots music should be. Expertly played, smartly arranged and hugely rewarding, it is easily the album's true apex moment.
The best Americana music is one that understand its place in history and furthermore understands the framework of the instruments used in the songs. Thirdly, first-rate Americana uses lyrics to unravel stories that are culled from all corners of America. Of any Americana album released this year, never are those three traits so expertly on display than on this masterwork of an album. Though they hinted at promise with 2010's Coattails (under the then-moniker PWolf and Avi), A Long Life of Living is a gigantic step forward and the surefire arrival of a fiercely confident tandem. Wise beyond their years and armed with worlds of potential, A Long Life of Living is truly as good as it gets.