“I woke up hugging myself but I was calling your name.”
That image of frustrated isolation fits so many of the trapped souls in Tom House’s work. It leads off his fine new album, Long Time Home From Here; and in its twelve songs, we find Desolation Row relocated to rural America, where mountain poets have always recognized its birthplace. House has long demonstrated mastery of simple, supple language to explore extraordinary inner turmoil; here, he finds the ideal production and arrangement to deliver these dark slices of life.
House essentially remains true to his old-time roots for the melodies and instrumentation, but the country blues energy is cued up another notch, adding bite to the runaway-freight-train rhythm. (Kindred spirit David Olney’s harp work might be part of that spark.) This works especially well on “Something’s Gotta Change” (“It don’t matter what”), in which lyric and pace suggest anything may happen and all restraint may shatter.
Even when he settles into beautiful old ballad mode to sketch the doomed dignity of “Georgia Queen”, or the puzzled wonder of “Something In Her Eyes” (George Harrison’s standard imagined by Dock Boggs), we’re still trapped in those distances separating even the closest companions. We celebrate a haunted “Christmas Eve My Love” (supported by Tomi Lunsford’s perfect, ghostly backing vocal); and we scramble for consolation in the bottle (“Easy Retreat”) or in rather unconvincing poses (“Conditioned Myself To Be Cool”).
In the end — “Today Was Easy” — we’re left with the archetypal House tableaux: two lovers, a beautiful day, and a hovering eerie sadness. Over the course of five albums, Tom House has constructed a unique, uncompromising and vital body of work. With Long Time Home From Here, he continues to explore the music’s shades of darkness and less dark, while refining his vision of American Individualism as Inferno.