One half of the Grammy Award winning duo The Civil Wars, John Paul White returns to the fray two years after the shock ending of his musical partnership with Joy Williams. For a while he concentrated on his record label (Single Lock Records) producing the sublime Donnie Fritts album Oh My Goodness. Beulah doesn’t directly address the issue of the band’s split but it contains several songs described by White as ones he “tried to avoid but I realised the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down,” the title refers to William Blake’s concept of the subconscious; the source of poetic inspiration and of dreams.
It’s an album that pokes into dark spaces, even on a creamy country love song such as I‘ve Been Over This Before (with harmonies by The Secret Sisters) there’s a tale of desertion and heartbreak. With simple acoustic based ballads and fuller arrangements that betray White’s love of Southern rock he alternately sounds angry and desolate, the opener Black Leaf a delicate recrimination with White’s acoustic picking to the fore backed by a sensitive keyboard and horn arrangement. It’s followed by the abrasive and swampy What’s So with White almost howling at times, pained by “the difference between what should be and what’s so.” White remains on this path for much of the album. There’s an almost Nick Drake like sound to The Once And Future Queen, apparently written for his daughter, while I Want To Make You Cry is simultaneously creepy and tender, the baroque folk backing adding to the sense of displacement here.
While songs such as I’ll Fight For You and The Martyr veer dangerously close to stereotypical “radio friendly angst rock” White can yank out a tremendous heartfelt apology on the lyrical folksy lament Hate The Way I Love You and he closes the album with another winner on the breathy close miked I’ll Get Even, a song whose lyrics are open to discussion.
John Paul White plays Manchester and London on the 7th and 8th November, details here