A Long Life of Living
Reviewed by Michele Zipkin
Goodnight, Texas is a veritable throwback to vintage country and folk, evoking the true spirit of old-time melodies. Elements of bluegrass, blues and Appalachian folk make their voices warmly heard in this charming ensemble. Created by Avi Vinocur (formerly of Stone Foxes) and Patrick Dyer Wolf, the group is named for the ghost town midway between their homes- San Francisco and North Carolina, respectively. Joined by bassist Bobby Kendall and drummer Alex Nash, the band just released their debut album on October 2nd called A Long Life of Living. In touring the US promoting their new album, they stopped in the town of Goodnight, Texas to hand-deliver copies of their record to every house in the town. That’s quite a generous and unique gesture for the band to share music with the town after which they are named.
The record deals with notions such as the swiftly diminishing memory of late 19th-century blue collar America, immigration, life’s tragic elements, and even hints at Wolf’s own travels from North Carolina to San Francisco. The group’s use of acoustic instruments and fairly minimalist production is so refreshing in a day and age where music is so severely produced. Their lyrics are unique in that they deal with stories not often recounted- stories in which people engaged in rigorous labor to make a living, life was a lot simpler, and there were no cell phones or iPads.
The first track of the record, “I’m Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm Forever” is a nice way to capture the essence of the album- the unforgivingness of a reality that took place generations ago, when people spent their whole lives doing manual labor. The clanging sound of the banjo almost calls to mind that kind of rustic work environment. “Submarines” includes a saucy little blues riff and showcases some exquisite harmony in the chorus that really brings out the country/western feel of the band.
The album’s single, “Jesse Got Trapped in the Coal Mine”, is a mournful tune about a worker who dies in a coal mine and leaves behind a fiancee. The group’s Appalachian folk and country tendencies come through in the beautiful yet somber vocal melody. The song almost calls to mind a spiritual or work song. In the same vein of some of the album’s wistful songs, “California You’re a Hole in My Heart” keeps it slow with a little nostalgic tune about missing home.
Another noteworthy song is “Railroad”, a mostly instrumental song that perhaps references an escape from a life of enslavement, and also moves in a way that mimics the movement of a train. “Oohs” crescendo up to gospel-esque, chant-like singing in the middle of the song that really rings true to the essence of Goodnight Texas- they are a folk/Americana band that creates heart-wrenching melodies and tells timeless stories. There should only be more bands like this one.