After a false start, the full effect hits; all gang vocals and syncopated beats. It’s as if an undiscovered inspirational Lion King song is soundtracking the closing montage of a wholesome children’s film. “Family” is the constant refrain in the song and the worldview, ending with the joyous mantra “kick off your shoes and dance.”
Even impending apocalypse doesn’t bring the mood down. Holcomb’s still positive and practical: “say goodbye to the past/raise up your glass and revel while it lasts.” The pace allows for a considerable sermon and it appears a rhyming dictionary was heavily consulted.
The tone shifts to a meandering easy listening love song dedicated to Holcomb’s wife, complete with a bit of creative license about how degenerative brain disorders and death work. The sentiment is understandable if they’ve had even half the life he describes.
Dragons is a gentle shuffle with yet another exhortation to positive thought and action, adding musicality to spoken word verses. The Lone Bellow enhance the homilies from grandfather: “stand up and bear witness/go slay all the dragons that stand in your way.”
As the album unfolds, there’s a hint of Jason Mraz to the wordplay and optimism. So it is with See The World, a celebration of his child’s potential.
The revolving door of guest artists continues. You Want What You Can’t Have features Lori McKenna, the Grammy winning co-writer of Girl Crush.
If that weren’t contemporary music royalty enough, the next track features The Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby! She provides a subtle harmony in an ode to perspective and acceptance.
Make It Look So Easy is another love song extolling the virtues and patience of the love: “you watch my lips and always find the harmony.”
You Never Leave My Heart drops the timbre of the voice for a time travel narrative to explore grief: “it’s always a benediction to be reminded that you’re gone/you’re a truth and a fiction/a vision and a song.” Electric guitar and drums crash around the snap back to the reality of loss and memory.
The record closes with Bittersweet which has some sweet singing over keys before the pace quickens for “big year at the box office, everyone’s at your show/strange year on the home front, nobody knows.”
That ending makes sense for a happy-go-lucky album that nonetheless explores deep themes.
Dragons is out now on Magnolia Music/Thirty Tigers.