Zachary Lucky’s The Ballad of Losing You is unapologetically anachronistic in every sense, save for the presumably modern medium through which you hear it. Swooning pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, piano, banjo and bass eloquently fill the canvas around Lucky’s gently strummed six-string, but it’s the robust, world-worn manner and clarity of Lucky's voice that is the subtle marvel of the album. Dubbed “The Laureate of the Lonesome Song,” Lucky is an acclaimed veteran on the Canadian folk scene (The Ballad of Losing You is his sixth release), but his music is new to my ears. Perhaps, the finest testament to Lucky’s achievement is to simply say these are exquisite, new lovesick-country songs that feel like I’ve known them forever.
Lucky’s songs have lived lifetimes. They sit you down, tell you their stories and heighten your senses to the wonders of nature, love and self. Lucky’s previous album, 2012’s Saskatchewan, was a nostalgic ode to his prairie home, while he roots The Ballad of Losing You in crisp country-western beauty and English folk-ballad tradition.
The result is an elegant, forlorn album immersed in the timeless spirit of Townes Van Zandt. It’s fitting then that Lucky both name-checks Townes’ “Waitin’ for the Day” (on the stunning “Woke Up”) and circles back around to cover that very tune five songs later. Singing “I woke up just wishing to be / just lost on the road or lost in a dream / with you by my side and Townes on the radio / just singing something about / waiting for the day,” Lucky goes on to daydream his ex-lover and him driving and singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody.”
That Lucky sings of Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie on one of the album’s ten songs (nine originals) of mature, poetic anguish in the aftermath of love lost speaks volumes of Lucky’s influences and aspirations. Each was (Dylan was and is) a man with histories behind and intertwined with his songs, each has paid heavy homage to those who came before him, and each made music that left legendary marks and continues to inspire and inform the music of younger artists. That such spirits are alive in Lucky’s songs, that he is writing folk-leaning break-up songs in the tradition of old English ballads, and that he is bringing them to immediate life with unflashy doses of country-flavored instrumentation and a total absence of upbeat tempos or shouted choruses only cement the fact that he is not concerned with time-stamped appeals to trends.
The Ballad of Losing You wholly consists of quiet, gentle ruminations on adult heartache, and they wash over you openly and comfortingly. This album is no bitter beauty. It’s battered, but beautiful. It’s earnest with vicarious wisdom, but it knows all this lovelorn stewing and romanticizing is pure naiveté. This naiveté is far from empty though: it’s a necessary vessel for growth and moving on.
The album is like a new face on that trusted companion Lucky is spending his waking hours dreaming of and wondering where it all went wrong. This new companion tells you he’s “had too many nights where my eyes couldn’t see / this drinking won’t cure it / this pain won’t leave.” He tells you of how he’s going to dream all winter for his true love’s “sweet song to return like the willow leaves.” He bemoans, “Oh my dear you have left me / in the merry month of May / and my heart will no longer love.” He tells you of his dreams of him as a soldier and his old lover as a maid, and he fabricates a sadder history than his current reality: “You and me and a baby made three / A beautiful boy / A family we would be / His second year / I would never see.” He pleads, “Don’t tell me it’s time to leave / after all the months we’ve shared / I’m tangled in the tallest trees / I’m tangled in your hair / For I no longer care to be / alone when I’m with thee.”
You get the sense this new, trusted companion doesn’t believe there’s any real hope of her ever coming back to him.
He’s getting it all out because it’s all that occupies his mind these days, and he knows one day these stories will be essential comfort to you. He knows, as Townes, Dylan, Woody and countless others who came before and after knew, we all will one day go through a long, sad Ballad of Losing You.
That Zachary Lucky turned such a ballad into an indelible album that feels aged, sublimely melancholic and true is a gift for that future day and all the years ahead.
Stream: Zachary Lucky - The Ballad of Losing You
Zachary Lucky’s The Ballad of Losing You is out September 17 via Missed Connection Records. You can hear an exclusive stream of the entire album below. It is available to pre-order from Bandcamp on CD, vinyl, or digitally.
*This post first appeared on Division St. Harmony on September 9, 2013.
Justin is a featured contributor to No Depression, and he resides on the outskirts of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Indiana. He writes his own music blog Division St. Harmony (@DivisnStHarmony), and he has been a senior contributor to The Silver Tongue and Laundromatinee.
Justin has an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel & @DivisnStHarmony and on Facebook.
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