There’s beauty in simplicity.
In a culture where art is called “content” and we’re constantly oversaturated and overstimulated by sounds and images, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Luckily Neilson Hubbard and his sterling new album Digging up the Scars are here to remind us of that essential truth.
Hubbard’s latest contains 11 elegant tracks, full of subtly gorgeous arrangements and vocals. It’s a record that sneaks up on you, with new layers to the material revealing themselves with each listen.
The title track is a great exemplification of this dynamic. It’s rooted in the acoustic singer-songwriter tradition and if it was merely that, it’d be a well-done genre piece. But then the chorus kicks in, with its layered vocals, piano, and strings, and its beauty hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.
Moments like this pop up throughout Digging up the Scars, these little details that raise the quality of each song. Sometimes it’s the way Juan Solorzano’s lap steel accentuates Hubbard’s wistful vocals on “Love Will Drown You in the Wake.” Or the way Hubbard channels the weariness of an early Tom Waits with his vocals on “The End of the Road.”
“Fall into My Arms” is a mastery in songcraft. It slowly builds in dramatic intensity, the symphonic swell combining with Hubbard really testing the higher range of his voice to create something beautiful.
Penultimate track “Before the Moment’s Gone” captures the entire ethos of Digging up the Scars. The melody is a simple enough piano-and-acoustic structure, with a string section that comes in to highlight deep meaning of the chorus. As for that chorus, Hubbard urgently pleads,
Don’t wish for tomorrow now, until tomorrow comes
Don’t lose this moment here before the moment’s gone.
It’s a reminder that life is a series of moments, each one worth appreciating and remembering. If you look ahead or are waiting for the next thing, you’re missing out on the moment that’s happening right now. By expressing the sentiment simply and clearly, Hubbard underscores its poignancy.
That’s the beauty of Digging up the Scars. Hubbard fills each song with these moments of heartfelt grace. In doing so, he offers listeners the chance to recognize them in each track, but also in their lives. It’s an album well worth your time.