A single, wavering note begins Luke Winslow-King’s new album, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always; a small clue to the music that follows. Unlike his previous four albums, this work is intensely personal. As he strums his Fender guitar and bends that first note, it wavers between rising higher or dropping lower. That one musical moment portends all that is about to unfold on the following nine songs.
As that first note gives way to more notes, then chords, and finally words, the mood shifts from Delta Blues to Gospel. As if some personal demon has finally been conquered, Luke Winslow-King (LWK) sings, “I’m on my way to the Golden Valley. I won’t be hindered or led astray.” The music is an uplifting blend of Blues and Gospel, and the mood is triumphant…
Until the next song begins. LWK takes us from triumph to despair in just the first few notes of the indigo-deep Blues on the title track. Swampy and sinister, LWK forsakes the optimism of the first song as he sings, “I thought that you’d always be true. Now look at here pretty baby, look what you made me do.” There are veiled accusations as the haunting, “midnight at the crossroads,” rhythms hint at retribution while he continues, “I may be gone pretty baby, but I’ll be coming back soon.”
“Change Your Mind,” changes gears once again. The foreboding tones have been replaced by jangly, folk-rock melodies with harmonica and vocal harmonies. The visceral anger gives way to a more conciliatory mood as LWK sings, “Will you change your mind about me? Will you give me one more look, like that chapter in your book?” The story behind the album is now starting to come in focus.
“Heartsick Blues” confirms the suspicions hinted at in the first three songs. A straight Country Blues with lyrical references to Hank Williams throughout, this song leaves no doubt that we’re smack dab in the middle of a broken heart. LWK is singing his way through the five stages of grief. From denial to anger to bargaining to depression, LWK has given us an intensely personal glimpse into his own private life. A little research reveals that Winslow-King and his wife divorced just prior to this album. Consequently, the feelings conveyed on this album are painfully real. The emotions are raw. There is true pain and pleading captured in these recordings. It is incredibly brave for an artist to reveal so much about his personal life. Any hint of criticism is no longer about a song or lyric, it becomes a criticism of the man behind them. Luckily for LWK, there is nothing to criticize here. For all of us who have suffered broken hearts, listening to this album is cathartic. It validates everything we’ve felt. It comforts us to know we’re not the only ones who’ve been there. And ultimately, it helps lead us to stage 5 of our grief: acceptance.
But before LWK takes us there, he retraces some steps. “Esther Please” gives anger another outlet with a shuffling, bluesy backbeat. “Watch Me Go” is a beautiful, Memphis Shoals Soul ballad (and an excellent example of the new County/Soul fusion that is gaining traction in Americana circles) that gives bargaining one last try as he sings, “Tell me if you love me, otherwise watch me go.” “Act Like You Love Me,” is a rollicking, rocking last ditch attempt at denial, reminiscent of early Animals and Spencer Davis Group. “Louisiana Blues” wallows in brooding, slide guitar Blues. Finally we reach “No More Crying Today.” The note that wavered at the beginning of the album has finally made a choice: it is rising. LWK realizes, “I got so lost and lonely, I thought I lost my voice. Stood up and saw myself and realized I had a choice…I’m looking for a lover, not one to call my own…Every little thing will be alright…They’ll be no more crying today.”
This album is emotionally compelling from start to finish with a masterful melding of Blues, Rock and Country roots influences. Just as an oyster needs aggravation to create a pearl, artists sometimes need tribulation to create their art. Although I feel for the angst and the emotional ups and downs that Luke Winslow-King must have endured to create this album, I am awed by the end result. Luckily for him (and for all of us,) trouble don’t last always.