First off, I am not placing this album on the pedestal the next paragraph may be interpreted as referencing to.
I remember the first time I heard Darrell Scott. And Lucinda Williams. And Emmylou, Tim O’Brien, Joy Lynn White, and George Jones. And Jay Clark, Guy Clark, Gene Clark, Nobby Clark, Old Joe, and all the rest of the Clarks. Sometimes music heard seeps into your soul, and hunkers in for a stay—it locates a special warm and inviting place, curls up, and becomes part of you. Know what I mean?
Listen to Edward David Anderson’s Chasing Butterflies and you may start deciphering what I am attempting to communicate: hopefully the next few paragraphs don’t get in the way.
I haven’t yet explored the rest of Anderson’s catalogue: that will come next, as soon as I find a few bucks for an iTunes card. But I can say with some confidence that I will locate those dollars and will purchase his previous albums, 2014’s Lies & Wishes and its follow-up Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions. I can only hope they contain songs as well-structured, complete, and intriguing as those within Chasing Butterflies.
There are a handful of songs spread throughout the 40-minute disc that would make Chris Stapleton sit up and notice, and that is not a slight toward one of my favourite contemporary country singers. But, beat me hard—this is how the album opens:
She’s been singing songs with her mama since the age of three,
She learned to sing the high parts sitting on there on mama’s knee;
Well, they love to sing together, it came natural—it was fun,
Sang so many songs, that their voices were like one.
It’s a beautiful thing, when two people sing in Harmony.
“Harmony” grabs the listener, pulling us into Anderson’s world of relationships, dovetailing—one hopes—with one’s own experiences. He massages rhyme and melody into a gentle creation replete with life, light, and trust so significant that one cannot resist its pull.
Similarly, “The Best Part” captures the strength of romantic relationships enduring—and strengthening with—the weathering of time and shared experience. “Sittin’ Round At Home”—in a chair that fits your “ass just right”—is as important and life affirming as living while the “Seasons Turn” with a faithfulness matched only by the one sharing your life.
It is Anderson’s awareness of hearth, home and domestic happiness that is immediately appealing, but the second track takes things in an entirely different direction. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Strange Fruit,” “Jena,” and far too many other songs have revealed for us the pain and suffering associated with inequalities of the North American south. Add to the list “The Ballad of Lemuel Penn,” the artfully constructed tale of army reservist murdered for the crime of driving through the Georgia night. The song is stark, striking in its matter-of-fact composition, never more so within its final line of his murderers: “And one still lives in Athens today.”
Musically, the album has a deep southern soul feel, perhaps in part for being recorded with Jimmy Nutt in the Muscle Shoals region. Grooves are deep, guitar breaks are extended (but not exaggerated), and emotion is palatable.
Chasing Butterflies is a stunning collection of modern Americana. Poetic and fresh with a deceptively laconic quality making it all the more momentous. I don’t use the word often: brilliant.