a literary review
These twelve songs from Detroit’s Timmy Reynolds walk the thin line between hope and hopelessness. There’s an old-time feel to these modern-day songs. Reynolds blends elements of Irish and Appalachian folk music with a blue-collar punk rock aesthetic. Buzzing bagpipes, the whine of a fiddle, crashing, strummed guitar, a driving kick drum, resounding piano, and mandolin all blend seamlessly together for a sound both old and new. These are forthright, blue-collar anthems, an amalgamation of Pete Seeger’s scope and content with the powerful drive of punk-folk acts like Defiance, Ohio and Against Me!
Reynolds is a “blue on the collar day-shifter” with his own point of view, proudly boasting “ain’t nobody gonna tell me how it is” in “Why Don’t You.” In “Take Me to the River,” Reynolds sings, “All I know, when you’re broken there’s a loss of hope. And when life ain’t no good you can’t change it, at the same time it’s only what you make it.” He returns to this motif again and again without losing any of the power of the sentiment. He’s not afraid to call it as he sees it, either, ragging on “celebrity politicians” and “corporate love songs.” This is Midwest Americana with a humanist, punk rock attitude.
Reynolds sings about his grandfather fighting against the Nazis in World War II in “The Bigot’s Way” and brings the message back home to the Trump-era with the line, “Nobody seems to recall, it just took a madman’s words to start it all.” Reynolds asks the hate-monger, “How’s your heart even beating in this darkness? Lord, how you even breathe is hard to say when you live and die the bigot’s way?” This echoes the imprecation in Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
There are songs steeped in sadness and loss but no treacle in the lyrics; “Jackie-Boy” ruminates on the loss of a loved one without drifting into the realm of sentimentality. “A Toast” touches on how limited our time together is with, of course, a toast, “Here’s to making it through and loving you.” Reynolds knows life is hard but that’s OK because “if there’s a god I think he’d be just fine if you’re a little sad from time to time.” “Old Missouri” harkens back to the record’s musical roots. “Mack (In the Garden)” ruminates on loss and the old sounds, melding then and now into a nearly eight-minute melody.
“I Ain’t That Kind of Country” lambasts the country music of today. Bashing the industry’s focus on plastic looks over heart, Reynolds laments “so long to the old country songs. I’ll remember you well and hold onto the sound of music made by the soul.” His tongue-in-cheek apology “I’m sorry I’m not that kind of country” is necessarily ironic. Reynolds’ country isn’t backed by a confederate flag. “By this song I’m calling you out,” all the party-liners and people that hold hatred in their hearts. His country music is “Music made for us all,” inclusion a tenet of the record and Reynolds’ vision of the genre. Reynolds wants you to embrace who you are despite perceived shortcomings and says to hell with anybody that’s got a problem with it when he sings, “You’re just the way you were meant to be now pick up the pieces for us all to see you for you.”
Life, Loss, and the Pursuit of Happiness is urgent music delivered by a genuine soul.
A.S. Coomer is a writer and musician. Books include Memorabilia, Shining the Light, The Fetishists, The Devil’s Gospel, Flirting with Disaster & Other Poems, The Flock Unseen, and others. He runs Lost, Long Gone, Forgotten Records, a “record label” for poetry. @ascoomer www.ascoomer.com