A bit of a dark horse himself when he was a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, Gill Landry seemed uncomfortable with the crowd pleasing antics of the band, preferring to deliver a more complex and somewhat darker vision via a series of acclaimed solo albums. Love Rides A Dark Horse was written in the aftermath of a time when Landry had, “destroyed all the pillars of my life intentionally and by accident.” A broken romance and disillusion with OCMS led to some revaluation with Landry thinking of the future as, “looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death,” however he describes the album as “more of ‘a map out of the darkness’ than ‘an invitation to it’.” Over the course of nine songs his attractive baritone leads the listener into a world of mournful reflection, a slew of ballads smoked in the ashes of loss, embellished with softly murmured arrangements, organ, lonesome harp and pedal steel to the fore.
There’s a rich velvet feel on the opening song, Denver Girls, with Landry delivering a tale that seems steeped in the past as the band add a cinematic feel not dissimilar to early Calexico. Taken at a fair clip, it’s the most up tempo song here with the remainder of the album slowing down allowing Landry to wallow in some fine miserablism. Bird In A Cage, a halting and haunting number with weeping pedal steel, finds Landry imprisoned in a downtown bar ruminating on where it all went wrong while Broken Hearts & The Things We’ll Never Know sets his failed romance as a screenplay replete with sorrowful fiddle. This sense of life being a screenplay is revisited in Scripted Love with Landry unable to live up to his lover’s romantic notions while there’s a plea to rise above this in The Woman You Are, an optimistic yet gloomy reverie with Landry singing, “remember when you asked where were going and I thought that I followed you.” The refrain, “you whispered soft in my ear, let’s get the fuck out of here” as simple and wishful as a get out of jail card.
Berlin is a brief respite from the wallow as it returns to the brisk tempo of the opening number with gliding pedal steel and fine keyboard work adding to the atmosphere. The One Who Won The War finds Landry sounding strangely like Billy Bragg at times on a trumpet infused number which dissects the aftermath of an affair. The Only Game In Town is a crack in the darkness as Landry considers, tentatively, a future love, his lyrics again referring to a “movie in the mind,” as he recommends a slow start. The album closes with a return to the cinematic feel of the opener. A lengthy instrumental introduction to The Real Deal Died, Spanish guitar and pedal steel offering a borderline landscape, leads into Landry’s one verse on this five minute song. He sings briefly of a man robbed of his identity although his essence remains. Listening to this one can’t help but think of the image of Travis Henderson stumbling through the desert in the opening scene of Paris Texas.
It may have been conceived in a dark place but on Love Rides A Dark Horse Landry has delivered a rich and sumptuous slice of melancholia. As the late L Cohen said, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”