2019 has been a huge year for artists espousing the virtues of Americana, and singer/songwriters like David Gelman are undeniably the reason why. Last Surviving Son, Gelman’s third LP released last month, skews traditional country rhythms with evocative folk melodies in songs like the title track, “Far Away,” “Wasting Away” and “Let It All Go,” while maintaining a soft pop style that makes the music appealing to casual listeners and serious disciples of both genres equally. In his last album, titled simply Undertow, there was a lot of experimentation with the harmonies that gave the record its most attractive crown jewels, and it’s easy to see where Gelman wanted to take the template set forth by that LP and maximize its capacity for lyrical relatability here. “Soft Surrender” courts us with its charming tones, “In the Sun” merges a modern country beat with an infectiously contagious pop hook, and if you manage to get through “Because You Love Me” without finding its signature stomp stuck in your head, you might just be impervious to energetic songcraft altogether.
Last Surviving Son borrows almost nothing from the modern Nashville model; “The Roads We Didn’t Take,” “Feel Alright” and “Presence of the Lord” defy the restrictive stylization of alternative country while embracing the experimental framework of the movement’s most endearing acts. “Let It All Go” and “Wasting Time” are probably the most basic of the bucolic balladry on this record, but even at their simplest they unequivocally tower over the majority of tracks that I’ve listened to from Gelman’s counterparts on the right side of the dial. There’s so much angst clashing with desire in this album that there are even a few instances, such as “In the Sun” and “My Vows to You (Wedding Song),” where it would be easy for the audience to take away multiple narratives from both the music and the lyrics, depending on the angle from which they consume the material. A fan inclined to do so could spend an awful lot of time breaking down the enigmas in the poetry and the emotional nuances within the textured melodies, but those who are just looking for an addictive groove or two won’t be disappointed either.
If you live for those spellbinding country crooners who possess a taste for the traditions that made the genre, and this nation, greater than any politician ever has, then you should consider David Gelman’s Last Surviving Son to be required listening this May. It’s got the moxie of a rock n’ roll record mixed with the subtle storytelling of a classical folk piece, and if you listen to it from beginning to end with limited disturbances from the outside world, you might find it to be one of the more cinematic Americana releases of the spring. A lot of artists have been trying to make the album that Gelman has in Last Surviving Son lately with lackluster results to say the least, and many would be wise to take a look at what he’s accomplished here and follow suit in their future recordings.