To re-arrange a Bruce Springsteen hit for inclusion on your first record requires either courage and talent, or stupidity and narcissism. Fortunately, Pat Anderson exhibits the former on his debut album, Magnolia Road. He turns an anthemic tale of defiance into a story of resignation and anguish. Accompanied by a sparse banjo from virtuoso Will Kimbrough, Dancing In the Dark epitomizes the mindset of someone who’s been beaten down so long it just doesn’t matter anymore. Anderson moans “I ain’t nothing but tired”, and it feels like it sapped every ounce of energy at his disposal.
The entire album is filled with emotional voyeurism gems like that. She’s the One is the realization that what one used to want so badly becomes a path to nowhere, with no way to turn back. I Wish I Was A Mole In the Ground is an interpretation of an old Appalachian tune about how someone works all day in the worst of conditions and comes home to a spouse with no sense of how the world works–”baby, where you been so long.” Indeed. And the title track repeats that lonesome Appalachia sound with the insight of how one is “always driving, never arriving.”
At the depth of the pain is Martinsville, a story of a closing textile mill. It uses the bass line to build a deep sense of foreboding that the occasional piercing of electric guitar does nothing to but just accentuate the desperation. This is a song that would make James McMurtry proud. Anderson also includes a couple of more uptempo rootsy pieces like Too Far Gone and Let It Rain that add some defiance and remind you sometimes the command to “bring it on” comes from where you least expect it.
Overall, Magnolia Road is a brilliant character study, a kind of musical version of a Tim Burton movie. It’s filled with dark characters and bleak landscapes; yet in the end the protagonist isn’t really unhappy. Life has its moments, you move on, and what’s so bad about that anyway.
By Shawn Underwood: Twangville.com