A Talk with Bobby Long: Part Three
It’s not accurate to say Bobby Long reinvents himself with every album, however much evidence the music gives. Instead, I think each EP and LP is a step toward something greater, and Wishbone is no exception. Bobby Long told me he never intended to be labeled a singer-songwriter—that every song in his head was accompanied by full band even if we heard it first with just his guitar and voice. A Winter Tale was recorded in two weeks with musicians he’d never met. Wishbone, he says, was a little more thought out. “I was always very pro-analog and tape, recording live, but the music…I always like to do different things. So we recorded this album on digital for the first time, and we did record some stuff live….It was more thought out. I thought more about writing parts and structures. We had more time…Time is such a valuable tool.”
That time was used to great advantage with Wishbone, which showcases a much deeper, nuanced artist. “It’s a heavier album—a bit more playful than the others.” Ted Hutt produced, which Long says was a wonderful experience. “He’s a great guy. Similar to Liam [Watson, producer of A Winter Tale] in his positivity and enthusiasm… We made a really great record together, and I’m really happy about it… I view the record as much his as it is mine. It’s a team effort.
The team effort produced an incredible album with multiple layers and intense musicality, but Long’s true magic, as always, lies in his words. He credits Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, with the ever-present nod to Jeff Buckley, too. The first track, Devil Moon, is an immediate departure from his acoustic past, opening with a driving rock riff that will stick with you for quite some time. “It was one of the first written for the album. The rest were written six months or so before we recorded, so I’ve been playing that one longer,” Bobby says. I’d heard it live and was excited about the new edge to his sound, and he delivered with the album opener.
Slide guitar features heavily in She Won’t Leave, the second track. This tune showcases his trademark vocals, salted caramel, with country-infused guitar that warms this Nashville girl’s heart. This flavor carries right through to the next song, In Your Way, but this isn’t a cry-in-your-beer ballad. The lilting lyrics hold a bit of bite, softened by the velvet in his voice and the weeping of the slide guitar.
Blood in the Orchard quickly became one of my favorite songs, with its deep roots in southern rock and, I think, a darker message—maybe a murder ballad cloaked in driving percussion and high-energy guitars? I do love my murder ballads. I really, really do. Long has an affinity for the murder ballad, too. “I love the goriness of it…the darkness. I think every songwriter I love has a thrill for that. Johnny Cash…Dylan, especially. You know, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman. Everyone I love has a thing for it. It’s just really powerful.” He credits his father for this…maybe. “He used to put me to sleep with this song called Hangman, Hangman, Slack the Rope. Probably the starting point.”
But then I think perhaps the next song, Help You Mend, is my favorite. This tender tune shows a softer side, and Long gives a lighter, loving turn with his voice. The transition isn’t startling, but it is impressive. He handles a raucous rock tune and a sweet ballad with the same skill.
As I listened to each track, I quickly fell in love. Every song has something unique and memorable and simply Bobby Long. My Parade is another standout, giving him a chance to flex his vocals with soaring lines and pervasive emotion. Yesterday, Yesterday takes yet another step toward greatness, with raw vocals, rough-edged guitar riffs, and a chorus that will stick in your head for days. That same tone carries right through into Waiting for Dawn, where we get some of the classic Bobby Long war poetry in his lyrics.
The crowning achievement, the song I just didn’t see coming, is the closing To the Light. This victorious tune of hope is his triumph, and I think he knows it. I could hear it in his voice. As each layer is added, each guitar chord, each cymbal crash, you’ll feel the build to a rousing chorus filled with driving percussion, guitar countermelodies, lush backing vocals… It’s all there and used to such incredible effect. I played it on repeat and felt the chills again and again as though listening for the first time. Well done, Mr. Long. Well done.
Buy the Album
Follow Bobby Long
Featured image credit: James Minchin