A few weeks ago we spoke with North Carolina’s Jeremy Squires about his new album, Shadows, what he calls his “most personal” record to date. The album was recorded during a time of great upheaval for Squires, and is therefore an unsurprisingly dark and sombre collection of songs. Confronting loss and grief head-on, the album expresses the reality of his life and his attempts to make sense of it. Deft songwriting allows Squires to expand these specific, individual scenes into large, engaging metaphors, in which we can find shards of our own experiences. As he explained in the interview:
“I like the listener to create their own narratives and take what they will from what I have written… I write it purposely in a way that the listener can get their own deeper meaning from the songs and still relate”
Shadows opens with ‘Carry You’, a hushed acoustic introduction which has a dark and shadowy southern Gothic vibe, the lyrics of heartbreak and loss seemingly straight from the pages of the best uncompromising, honest-to-goodness American literature, “I stood alone there waiting / I saw your tail lights fade / Burn out like the stars / But here I remain”. ‘Hourglass’ follows a similar pattern, something of a coming of age tale of tough living that could be taken straight from the pages of Larry Brown’s Joe or Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson (for example: “And I thought about when I was a kid / and I thought about what my father did / and what he didn’t do”). The reminiscent tone remains during ‘Your Love’, a song about the things that could have been, all nostalgic memories of childhood and lingering regret. It’s a great example of Squires’ ability to tell a story using the minimum number of words.
“Halloween when we were kids
playing in the woods, covering my lips when breath escaped your mouth
we’re strangers now and all that faded away
all that faded away”
‘Glisten’ is another sad song, this time with sorrowful piano behind the guitar. It’s the first track to feature additional vocals from Anna-Lynne Williams, aka Lotte Kestner (someone who has been really good to us at WTD). ‘Alone’ has a bit more pace and a noirish country twang, the lyrics like something from the nebulous mind of William Gay, all desperate terror and merciless Biblical hellfire. “The pearly pearly gates where there ain’t no hope for me,” Squires sings. “The Lord cast me down into the fiery lake / Through the pentecostal flames in the sky behold my name / the words written in the smoke from effigies.” The lyrics are at the forefront too on ‘Open’, a poem by Williams that Squires has set to music. The track returns to the gentle tone, the words as soft and fragile as the moth wings they reference.
“I forget there are so many ways in
to where I live
the air doesn’t seem to move
in the daytime
but like ghosts
I can trust the leaves and moths
to find all of the
Following is one of my favourites on the album, ‘After All’, a lovely song that conjures images of dusty and familiar rooms, spaces coloured special through memory or sentiment. This itself could serve to describe his songs as a whole, tales of common heartbreak and suffering made memorable, somehow more human, life exuding from every tiny detail, every poetic turn of phrase.
“There’s an old painting of Jesus
on a wall
and a tapestry that hangs by a cross
that weighs heavy on my shoulders
now and then
I get caught up with why the things we love ain’t never last”
‘Patterns’ is quiet and intimate, like a lonely porch-sat dawn, full of memories of things now gone, a mingling of past happiness and current regret. “Once you stood beneath the noisy life,” Squires sings, “and now it’s quiet and the silence gets to you sometimes / it was summer in the yard catching lightning bugs in jars / and the reflection of them in your daughters eyes.” It’s an incredibly poignant and candid song, achieving what all good music/literature can in painting a character in several deft strokes, portraying a myriad of thoughts and feelings in a manner never sickly or overwrought. The final track ‘Woven’ is a perfect ending, encapsulating everything that is great about Jeremy Squires’ writing. Here the mood is morose but not depressed, the song a long hard look into the beauty and tragedy of a life which is familiar with both.
“Fall’s burning those embers
you ain’t but a fire on my lazy day
Through the wildwood and brambles to a city of ghosts
down where nobody lives anymore
this old house is in shambles, it’ll rattle your bones
when it won’t, it won’t matter no more”
Basically, Shadows is great. It does what the very best folk music can do, an outpouring from one human being to a multitude of others. It’s a record borne out of legitimate heartbreak, the end of a marriage and the death of a loved one, a brave and honest attempt to deal with big life-changing events. The beauty of it is that the finished work is not just healing and revelatory for the artist. It can help us too. All of us. As Squires put it in our interview, “it is the most personal record I’ve ever written. I wanted people to hear it though and I felt the listener could take something positive from all the loss or darkness that this album conveys”.
Album art by Barney Bodoano