Perhaps his indifference to stereotypical glory stems from the interior life he’s built. Since his previous album came out in 2013, he became a stay-at-home dad of two and has slogged through the pandemic. Young paints these experiences into a dozen gems on his latest album, lamenting the slow march to obsolescence on The Wallflowers-esque “Grown Ups,” falling into bad habits on the alt-country “Backwards,” and singing about staying “exactly where I’ll always be” over a mournful Appalachian fiddle.
But that’s only half of it. “Crow Got Drunk,” named for a favorite story told by his late grandfather, pairs its spinning-wheel lyrics with bright arrangements that bring positive energy to Young’s tales of woe. He calls the divide between his major-key twang and melancholic lyrics just part of his personality. “I suppose it's a reflection of who I am as a person and of how we all have an ‘outside self’ and an ‘inside self,’” he writes in the album’s liner notes.
To help pull off such a balance, Young recruited members of Boston band The Push Stars, including producer-engineer Dan McLoughlin, drummer Ryan MacMillan, and vocalist Chris Trapper, among others. Rhett Miller, the singer of alt-country mainstays Old 97’s, even adds harmonies to one cut. Young idolized both groups growing up, along with groups like R.E.M., whose “Driver 8” gets name-checked during a pivotal moment in “Can’t Make Me Go Back.”
After years in the game, it’s fitting that Young gets to play with his heroes.
He sounds most potent, though, solo in the solace of the acoustic closer “Florence Virginia.” Inspired by the final days of his grandmother, the tender ode resists the urge to dip into the mawkish. Instead, Young opts for sly turns of phrase that reflect her dying on her own terms: “Though my heart’s racing for what lies in store,” he sings in her voice, “I lost the battle, but I won the war.”
Young doesn’t have to hit the late-night circuit to bring a song like that to those who need to hear it.
Patrick Hosken is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to email@example.com.