Chris Canterbury’s Quaalude Lullabies

By Brian Rock

Louisiana balladeer, Chris Canterbury plumbs the depths of despair and desolation on his achingly beautiful third release, Quaalude Lullabies. Following in the footsteps of Chris Stapleton, Canterbury sings with an authenticity that demands respect.

“The Devil, The Dealer, & Me,” gives a glimpse inside the mind of a thoroughly broken man. Confessing, “The mirror don’t like what it sees,” Canterbury pleads for redemption against a slow waltz rhythm provided by haunting organ chords hovering over a muted bass and telecaster. Never quite revealing which side of “the deal” he’s lamenting, he notes that, “There’s an army inside my head and a monster under my bed.” Whichever side he’s on, the battle scars still haunt him. Attempting to justify his actions, he tries to comfort himself by claiming he’s free to choose his own path, but soon questions, “Am I running free or running scared?” In the end, his choices have left him, “cold as a shoulder, dry as a bone; a memory is worthless if you make it alone.” Like a Shakesperean tragedy, the hero learns too late that he gave up what he needed to get what he wanted.

Canterbury’s burly, bellowing baritone animates this and each of the songs on this album with a life-weary pathos that speaks of lessons learned the hard way. His characters don’t fare much better throughout the album. The sparse, acoustic, “Fall Apart,” finds Canterbury yearning for an embrace just to keep from losing his grip on life. The lilting Celtic fiddle rhythms of, “Yellow Mama,” betray the solemness of a death row inmate facing his imminent demise. “Felt The Same,” is another sparse arrangement about playing shows to a handful of drunkards. The bleakest road song you’ll ever hear, Canterbury moans, “The road I’m on is cold and dark and lonely. I ain’t got a penny to my name. Folks back home still think I’m gonna make it. I wish like hell that I still felt the same.” “Kitchen Table Poet,” adds a full backing band, including pedal steel, to pay tribute to a great story teller; but, “You won’t ever know his name.” The pedal steel also sets the mood for “Heartache For Hire.” “Sweet Maria,” shines a rare ray of sunlight on the album as it captures a moment of comfortable companionship. But even the light of this moment is diffused by pedal steel and minor chords blowing in like storm clouds from the west. “Take Me Down The Line,” finds Canterbury and his band shifting out of second gear for this tribute to truckers. But the lively Honky-Tonk rhythms again play counterpoint to the darker lyrics which recount a trucker’s last haul.

Just when you think Canterbury’s stories can’t get any more tragic, he finishes with “Back On The Pills.” Starting the song with, “The needle’s in the bathtub. The damage far from gone..,” he begins his story at rock bottom. Giving you an agonizingly intimate view into an addict’s psyche, he somehow manages to stir a feeling of compassion for this lost soul. A subdued B3 organ plays muted gospel chords as Canterbury sings, “Father forgive me, I know I’ve sinned. I’m well aware of the shape that I’m in. My soul’s as black as asphalt that sits beneath my wheels. I’m down to my last dollar, and back on the pills.”

It takes a great deal of character to empathize that deeply with such a tortured soul. That fact that Canterbury makes you feel sympathy for this and all the lost souls on this album is a tribute to his story telling skills. His unvarnished honesty allows us to see a bit of ourselves in even the lowliest of his characters. His stories are brutally honest – more real than truth. His tales of heartache and hopelessness make Hank Williams look like Pollyana. But for those who have been lost and lonely, Chris Canterbury shows us that he, too, feels our pain; and we are, therefore, not totally alone.  |  fb  |  buy

Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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