Brian Ritchey’s allegiance to southern spirituality takes many forms — swampy ballads, back porch devotionals, spirited, soulful laments and the usual pedal steel-laced homilies to home and hearth. Bordeaux surveys all these settings and more. While each of his preceding albums have taken different tacks — his eponymous debut drew comparisons to the usual suspects (Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Tom Petty et. al.), while his second, If I Were a Painter, took a more roughshod approach, just as its follow-up, No Way Out, diverged in the way of cinematic suggestion — Ritchey’s music remains firmly implanted in the darkest rural recesses.
In that sense, Bordeaux could be perceived as a return to his roots. The songs end almost as quickly as they begin, brief swatches of sun-drenched melancholia in the guise of heartfelt vignettes. There’s trouble and turmoil brewing beneath the surface, but the serene and sublime arrangements belie the sense of aching evoked in titles like “Hello Lonely Friends,” “We’re Just Wrong” or “Haunting House.” A kind of wistful reflection dominates these melodies, and on songs such as “I’m Not Gone” and “Someone Else,” that feeling of longing and lament is practically palpable. There’s a beguiling beauty that finds its way into the majority of these aching interludes, but the feeling that lingers is one of a sadness and despair that can’t be simply wished away.
The most incisive song of the set comes in the guise of “Rest My Head,” a petulant tale of abject determination. A sprawling narrative describing a search for solace and comfort, it builds like a whirlwind with the same darkness and defiance that once characterised such songs as “Tonight’s the Night,” “Heroin” and nearly every one of John Lennon’s early angst-ridden attempts to exorcise his hidden demons. “Not Today” picks up on that unrest, creating a veritable musical maelstrom as it rages towards its turbulent conclusion. Ritchey’s calmer moments, as expressed in terse ballads like “Disease” “Playing the Part” provide the ying to that unnerving yang, keeping that unsettled energy intact every step along the way.
Ultimately, Bordeaux offers a striking tableau, and whatever it lacks in immediate appeal is more than mitigated by its haunting allure. It doesn’t necessarily provide an easy peg when it comes to delineating Ritchey’s drift and direction, but its restless spirit and hollow-eyed observations do offer a beguiling experience of sorts. It will be interesting to hear what comes next.