Griffin Anthony Balances Ambition With Humility on ‘Refuge’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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It’s not that Griffin Anthony is intimidated or disgusted by the relationship between art and commerce; he’d just rather accept its imperfection and keep on writing. After all, Anthony’s creative process is enough of a formidable opponent to contend with on a daily basis. The 35-year-old songwriter lives in a cottage at the foothills of the Berkshire mountains and no longer searches for inspiration. He shows up— staying on the job long enough to carve a deep path for his writing. Anthony is a professional in every sense of the word.

His new full-length effort Refuge burns slowly and provides enough analog warmth to melt decades of banal charting pop. The album would probably connect with a broader audience if it was released in 1978, but that takes nothing away from a collection of nine well-crafted and poised mid-tempo humanizing tales.

Cloaked in the simple fabric of few musical elements,”On the Level” is the most straightforward nod to the album’s title and the universal quest for fulfillment. Anthony’s creative risk lies in the simplicity of his blue-collar lyric juxtaposing the profundity of his message. Delivered from a first person perspective, the “workin’ hard, punchin’ time” protagonist digs into something that feels familiar to Anthony.

The album’s B-side opens with its most gripping standout of the collection. “1954” tells the story of a WWII veteran on the 10-year anniversary of D-day. Battling PTSD and balancing pride with regret, the protagonist is portrayed with generous empathy and evokes seemingly conflicting feelings of devastation and nostalgia. Anthony courageously explores a celebrated time in American history when wounds were thought to only exist if visible.

A fitting bookend, the cinematic “Coyote’s Lullaby” renders a prospecting gold miner longing to return to his wife and the security of domestic life. His pining is timeless. A product of the 1800s Westward Expansion, his yearning is still relevant to the ethereally lonesome road of a touring musician.

There’s nothing slick or trendy about Refuge. Void of meandering solos or flashy vocal acrobatics, the album listens like it was undoubtably written, tracked and mastered for vinyl. Its songs don’t beg for validation at any point. The production, courtesy of Jon Estes (Steelism, John Paul White, Kesha), layers Anthony’s lyrics with understated moments and dynamic subtly; leaving space for the stories to unfold. Rather than lamenting the struggles and hardships of the characters, Estes and Anthony choose to imbue each song with Hope.

At its best, Refuge is a soulful and mindful portrait of 20th century America as told through nonlinear character-driven narratives, organic instrumentation, and compassion. Perhaps lyric-first pop music isn’t an oxymoron after all.

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