From Atlanta, Georgia but based in Nashville, Ron Pope has amassed some incredible statistics over the years since he started recording. His Spotify listens and digital downloads number in the millions and he regularly sells out his shows in the States. His previous album (with his band, The Nighthawks), released in 2016, was the first to make waves over here in the UK and with Work he’s sure to cement his reputation. A fiercely independent artist, Pope has forged his way without any major label assistance and Work is released on his own imprint. It finds him straddling two styles – funky Southern rock and a rootsier countrified sound. That he manages both with some aplomb is a credit to him and the album is a very fine and varied listen.
Pope describes the album as almost a biography, the opening songs reflecting a rambunctious youth who could have ended up on the wrong side of the law before knuckling down to hard graft and learning about love and life. He opens with a horn section riffing away on the infectious Bad For Your Health which rocks like Little Feat used to rock as Pope sings of youthful rumbles and an encounter with a youthful femme fatale. The following Let’s Get Stoned is even more akin to Little Feat with a sinewy rhythm and New Orleans backbeat as Pope recalls more lascivious youthful encounters. Can’t Stay Here is another rocker although this time it’s Springsteen who’s the lodestone as the singer starts to encounter the reality of growing up. A tremendous triple whammy to kick off the album, these songs set up an expectation that the album will be a balls to the wall rocker but Pope dials it back for the remainder with the result that the end result is a more satisfying listen than if it had just continued in this vein.
The title song is a pared back acoustic number with Pope recalling Steve Earle on a song that one suspects is the most autobiographical here. He sings, “I had a teacher, she told my mother that she better find me a trade because boys like me well, we all grow up to be long term guests of the state” as he matures from a youth who liked to hang with his friends and have a smoke. Adulthood and relationships beckon and Pope has a jaunty country romp, Last, which is speckled with a banjo as he sets out on his amorous endeavours while his mortality his reckoned with on the country waltz of someday We’re All Gonna Die. Thereafter Pope roams around various styles with Partner In Crime the weakest link on the album with its E Street sheen just not hitting the target but Dancing Days is a fine raggedy jangle of a song with saloon piano and a Faces’ like sloppiness. The Weather has Pope and singer, Molly Pardon, harmonising a bruised and plaintive lament with fiddle and pedal steel embroidery and Pope ends the album with a solo offering, Stick Around, a love song that is bold and confessional. Here he professes his love despite any obstacle from either side and lays bare his failings in the hope that he can, in the fullness of things, stick around.
Work is an excellent piece of work which is well recommended.