Evidently, Minnesota-native turned Nashville resident Austin Plaine and I listened to a lot of the same music growing up, listed here in no particular order: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Conor Oberst, Ryan Adams. I can’t write a song, much less one that could structurally replicate and attempt to advance upon the legacy and patterns of some of music’s most gifted narrative-driven singer-songwriters. But Austin Plaine can, and his second album, Stratford, is a set of graceful, well-crafted tunes that honor his influences without merely imitating them.
Over the course of 11 songs, Plaine balances unadorned, quiet folk with a poised country-rock and ties it all together with a worldly, weary voice that belies the fact he’s only 27 years old. It builds nicely upon Plaine’s eponymous 2015 debut, continuing his development as a story-driven composer.
But whereas his self-titled album delivered the artistic ambitions of his lyrics by utilizing some jangly folk-rock (like on songs “Hard Days” and “Your Love”) and indie-inspired melodic textures (“Beautiful”), Plaine presents a more unified musical vision of himself this go-round. And that vision falls somewhere between Springsteen’s Nebraska and Adams’ Cold Roses.
“Rise Above It” is anchored by a chord progression and anthemic chorus that smacks of Springsteen’s inspiration. “Wild and Young” and “Night Train” could easily be nestled into Adams’ collaborations with the Cardinals, but Plaine ditches Adams’ well-documented (musical) excesses, hang-ups, and self-consciousness for a more self-assured, straightforward lyrical and vocal performance.
Arriving at the midpoint of Stratford, Plaine uses “Lucky Ones” to pull together all his inspirations and create a track that’s uniquely his own. It begins as a country ballad with minimal accompaniment. By its conclusion, Plaine’s whole band is involved, giving “Lucky Ones” a swing that drives the album’s second half.
In the four years between his debut and Stratford, Austin Plaine has shown real growth and maturity in the craft of composition and finding a style that works. As he continues his career, it’ll be interesting to see how he further develops his burgeoning talents.