Love Rides A Dark Horse, and so does Gill Landry. After producing a handful of solid albums both as a solo artist and with Old Crow Medicine Show before leaving the group, Landry came out of nowhere with an album that sounds a lot different than anything else he’s produced. It’s a melancholy record that builds to an incredible track that leaves behind the type of hard-won elation and inspiration that only cheering an underdog to victory truly can.
Calling Love Rides A Dark Horse a breakup record is both accurate and inadequate. Drawing from the pain one might expect to experience from a failed engagement, Landry writes from the perspective of someone questioning the factors that ended his relationship on “Berlin.” The song also seems to question whether he’ll ever have the ability to truly understand what exactly happened or even whether a genuine connection even existed. From there the analysis only deepens. Landry spends most of the album breaking up with his prior notion of love and relationships, calling into question whether anything real can emerge from the expectations and pressure associated with the typical courtship.
“Scripted Love” exposes the disappointment that comes along with having such expectations. “Broken Hearts” explores similar ideas while pointing out that part of the formula of a typical relationship is often an unpleasant end. In “Broken Hearts,” which appears earlier on the album, Landry laments having played the role unknowingly and enthusiastically. By “Scripted Love,” he’s refusing to go down that path again. “The Only Game In Town” shows him politely avoiding a relationship built on this shaky foundation. Believe it or not, this is all leading to a happy ending.
“The Woman You Are” is the most gratifying love song I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. After hearing Landry’s struggles with the even notion of relationships I didn’t expect him to find a woman to solve all his problems by the album’s end, nor would I have been satisfied if he did. A sullen conclusion would have been passable, but not nearly as remarkable. “The Woman You Are” works because it allows for love to exist in the same world in which the notion of love is so flawed. It gives the disillusioned hope that they can find happiness not by conforming to the ideas they’ve identified as broken, but by finding a kindred spirit and being cynical and spontaneous and even lost together. Landry’s western ends not with a couple riding off into the sunset together, but instead with two people wandering through a less than beautiful world in a way that brings them some level of peace. It’s believable, it’s beautiful, and it’s perfectly designed to sublimate the chilly mood tracks like “Scripted Love” have crafted so well. For all who cheered along with Landry’s swipes at the falseness of the human bonding ritual known as dating, “The Woman You Are” offers the right words to whisper to the right person: “I don’t need you to be mine/I need you to be you.”
The first track, “Denver Girls,” describes a fling filled with strange moments both joyful and deflating that the singer eventually deems ‘worth the while.’ While speaking to Landry, I asked if he now knew what he was looking for in a relationship. He explained that he had a better idea of what he wasn’t looking for. Landry may have written an extraordinary love song in “The Woman You Are,” but he’s learned that a relationship shouldn’t follow even the best of scripts.
What made you embrace the lower range of your vocals on this album? You seem to be leaning on that way more than you have on your previous solo efforts.
I think that a lot of it was that I used to sing higher because I started [performing] on the street. And so I had to project and so got in the habit of keying songs up like a step or two that I can get more of an energy and also projected them and I agree and that it’s not necessary any of this. The songs also required a more tender approach that didn’t need to feel as immediate.
On “Berlin” you seem to be saying that looking for someone to blame after a relationship ends isn’t always possible or worthwhile.
Is that what I say? You mean with the line “blame is just a game?” Oh yeah. Yeah. Well you know, it takes two. So it’s not you know it’s never cut and dry. Both people always walk away feeling like they are right, generally, unless they know they’ve done something atrocious. So, yeah it’s kind of pointless. And it’s over, so there’s no point. When things are over there’s no point in it. You can review it for the rest of your life or just move on.
I got a chance to see you try out a few of the new songs at Rockwood Music Hall [in New York City] actually.
Oh, just the other day? Yeah, nice. It feels like a century ago already.
It kind of does actually. Yeah, it was just three days ago from when we were recording this conversation.
That’s crazy. I’m standing north of Red Bluff, California. Life moves fast.
You made it a long way.
I thought it was pretty interesting that you closed the show on the track “Bad Love” after dedicating it to our paper towel-hurling president.
I more mean it just as a… yeah, all this shit is is insane. It’s also ridiculously unnecessary. It’s just bad communication. I mean not everybody wants the same thing if you go for all the words you know I’m sure you know there’s a lot of bad ideas out there but… you know all this back-and-forth black-and-white shit, and by black and white I mean hard this way or hard that way… whatever, it’s just. fucking disappointing and embarrassing
And also literally black and white.
Well yes, not to ignore that at all. It is black, brown, and white. It’s everything. It’s not where I thought we were headed, but I’m just living here.
We’ve heard about “Bad Love,” but what makes a love scripted?
Many things, it’s really just the narratives of how things are supposed to be. The expectations of what you think love should be I think will generally tend to disappoint you in dealing with real people in real time. It always has for me anyway and it tends to be more based on a hopeful fiction of what’s happening and therefore you’re not really dealing with what’s happening.
I’ve heard a lot of albums that are at least heavily influenced by a break-up but I’m pretty sure this is the first one I’ve heard that leads to a break up with the societal notion of what a romance is supposed to be.
It’s the first is the first time I got there myself. It was just what I was feeling.[
It is it is a fascinating idea that you cap off with a song called “The Woman You Are,” which to me is one of the most hard-won love songs of all time. How did you decide to leave it that place, at least with the whole arc you have with the concept of love on this album?
As far as the love narrative, because that’s more where I feel like I’m headed than where I was coming from, if that makes sense.
So now, you’re essentially saying you know what you’re looking for.
Um… I know what I’m not looking for. I don’t know that I’m looking for anything anymore. I mean that’s not a negative. It sounds negative but it’s not. It’s a steady struggle, but let go of my own delusions as it were in what I think is supposed to be life.
And that’s a that’s a pretty good place to be I think. I don’t hear it as a negative.
Good. It feels pretty good. Let me tell you, I hope I stay the course and don’t get lost. Well, I hope I do get lost actually.
The performance of that song at Rockwood was very surreal to me. You almost whispered to portions of it.
Well technically, I lost my “a” harmonica, so I had to play it down a step, so I sang it even lower than the record. I would have preferred the quiet anyway because I mean I think the sentiment is that way. You know, I’m more into seduction than brutality. Now as far as like everything goes really, but music for sure. Just that that sentiment of that song particularly, you don’t need to beat people over the head with it.
I’m almost never this direct with my line of questioning, but why did you choose to end the album on “The Real Deal Died” and not what I thought was the conclusive release of “The Woman You Are?”
Many reasons. One main reason is that it goes very nicely right back into “Denver Girls,” which is the first track. It’s sort of slightly western-themed music. I feel like it matches well with the following track with the first track. So if you were listening to the album on repeat, it would flow quite nicely into itself. Also, I think it’s just a good closing commentary and I like albums that close with something outside of the narrative of the rest of it.
Did you have anyone in mind when you were referring to “The Real Deal?”
Many people yeah, definitely. But you wouldn’t know any of them. I guess I can say I like the most popular image of it would be like the early blues men and songsters of old. People know the names that you know let’s just take any old man in Mississippi who’s just singing songs of his life. Now it can be put on with great production and lights and kind of misses the whole point. But I’ve mainly thought of people that I knew on New Orleans and all over the world that I’ve traveled that are just playing on the street the planer and campfires playing in little shitty bars and nobody cares and they’re doing it for everything. What makes it great actually is that it’s not celebrated it just is happening. And I’m also speaking to all of my influences. Lately I have a friend Lisa Driscoll who is a very important woman in my life in New Orleans who taught me a lot.And she died about two weeks ago. The people that know her know her name. She’s a legend amongst friends. But I’m just paying homage to those characters.
It makes me think of how things almost went for Mississippi John Hurt.
Yeah he’s a great example of that. They did they did have a resurgence in the 60s but all those early records and you know all all the praise. But it was just you know men and the invention of early country music and early rock and roll or whatever it was. They weren’t they weren’t imitating anyone, maybe they were pulling influence off each other, but they weren’t recreating some nostalgic thing. It was it was happening in real time and that’s what makes it great.