Tulsa, Oklahoma-based songwriter John Calvin Abney has had a busy few years. In the past two and a half years, he has played over 400 shows, driven over 100,000 miles, released his critically acclaimed debut album Better Luck and two EPs – Empty Candles and Vice Versa Suite – along with performing as a sideman for acts like Samantha Crain, John Moreland, and The Damn Quails. By the end of 2015, he was tired.
By December of 2015, he had an album’s worth of songs ready to record and he headed into the studio, but fate had different plans. “It all fell apart. It’s not that the musicians were bad. It didn’t feel right. There was something essential missing, a sense of comfort and guidance that for some reason I couldn’t access.”
Following his intuition, Abney cancelled the sessions. “I left in the middle of the recording session and went to Colorado at the beginning of January. I took all my 4 track recording gear to the mountain and I was going to record the record by myself up there. But I didn’t record a single note. I actually ended up writing 20 new songs.” Two months later, Abney took another crack at his sophomore album. This time, he hit a home run.
“Everyone was just miraculously free for three days. And so we recorded those days and it was just magic. When I came off the mountain, I had new songs, new perspective, and a whole new view on things. We finished the whole record in three days. It’s kind of cosmic how it turned out. It felt like a second chance.”
The result is Far Cries And Close Calls, out September 23rd on Horton Records – a lean ten-song set that is both a travelogue and a deeply personal recitation of missteps and disappointments. It is a documentary-style take on the life of a touring musician stripped of all romanticism and self-pity. “The songs have to do with traveling and failing, shooting for the moon and missing the mark altogether. And the repetitiveness. It’s not failing, but it feels like failing.” You have a sense of what you’re getting into from the first lines of album opener “Beauty Seldom Seen”: “It’s a bad string of failures and bad news bearers, broken testimonies at bars.”
Far Cries And Close Calls is far from a mopey record, however. The album is brimming with energy and catharsis – combining the introspection and harmonic inventiveness of Elliott Smith with the wit and energy of Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan. As Abney puts it: “Despite the lyrical content being full of uncertainty and sadness and misdirection and regret, I feel really good when I listen to the record. These songs that represent all this sadness became songs of jubilation for me. I can’t remember the bad stuff that the songs are about as much as I remember how much fun and how much unbelieveable cosmic energy there was in the room during the recording of that record.”
While songs like “Beauty Seldom Seen” and “Impostor” give us a window into Abney’s dark nights of the soul, upbeat rockers like “Goodbye Temporarily” and “Weekly Rate Palace” show the side of Abney that wakes up the next day to drive another 6 hours and play yet another show because, “What the hell?” It’s this duality that makes Far Cries And Close Calls a transcendent record.
To Abney, the circumstances around the recording of Far Cries And Close Calls might feel like fate or magic. the But the true magic of this record is Abney’s deft execution of a trick employed by all great entertainers – the transformation of pain into joy.
— Bio by Max Porter