Brian Wright’s “House on Fire” is the Best Album you don’t own.
Some albums are better than others, and the odds are, this one’s better than most of your others. Describing Brian Wright isn’t easy. If you compared him to other musicians, he’d probably never sleep again from the crushing pressure of living up to the labels of legends. Plus, so many of the audible influences on this album go back before artists’ names were known, back before people owned songs—when music was just an expression of love, hurt, celebration, and morning—before music was a business, when music served a purpose.
If you had to label it, I guess you’d call it Southern-alt-country-billy-gospel-rock-folk-icana-grass-& blues, but that’s a stupid fucking name. So think of it more like “Being There” if Jeff Tweedy was a 200 year-old black man, yet still almost impossibly true to the original Outlaws. Yeah, it’s wild.
Brian recorded his previous album Blue Bird with his band the Waco Tragedies. It’s amazing, and quite frankly, the Tragedies are my favorite band in town, and that’s saying something, because we don’t exactly live in some perma-dark, rural Alaska township without a guitar store. Everybody plays in LA, but for my money, these guys are the best here.
When I first heard Brian wasn’t doing this album with the Waco Tragedies, I was a little confused, but when you hear it, you’ll know why he took the exhaustive and near-obsessive task of playing almost all the instruments himself like an old-timey delta savant: it’s perfect. There are a lot of great ways these songs can be played, but this is exactly how they had to sound together on this album and not one note different.
House on Fire is the kind of album that deserves to be listened to on a serious set of speakers. It’s got some amazing yet subtle complexities and intricacies that make me want to launch into an Ol’ Man Grumbine rant about how kids these days miss half of what’s going on listening to music on those little, shitty, white, included-in-the-box ear plugs. Don’t get me wrong, the melodies and rhythms and the warmth and earnestness of Brian’s voice would make these songs sound great on a ’73 Chrysler factory-issued AM radio, but there are some badass arrangements and instrumentation that you would be a jackass for passing up.
A lot of people would breakdown an artist like Brian and comment on his abilities as a singer, songwriter, and musician, but you can’t separate the three. Each feeds into the legitimacy of the other and that combination makes him sound so pure and convincing that when he plays “Maria Sugarcane” you want to nudge your buddy next to you and say “hey, ummm, he didn’t really kill his brother to steal his wife, right? I mean, I know it’s totally justifiable because his brother was beating Maria and all, but still, he didn’t do it right? He doesn’t seem like a killer, but, damn, you heard that, right?” And of course, Brian didn’t kill anybody, but his story telling is so sincere and perfectly supported it’s hard to tell.
All that being said, the handful of other musicians who contribute to this album manage to blend in seamlessly while also elevating the sound. Sally Jaye sings like a fucking angel. There’s no other way to say it—she sounds like something holy. The spirit and soul she puts into every note compliment Brian’s voice so naturally that you start to think predestination isn’t such a far fetched idea. These two were meant to sing together. Apparently they recently recorded a Gospel album together in an old church in North Carolina. It hasn’t been released yet, but every time I even think about it, I get giddy and grin like a stoned Cheshire cat.
I realize that if you’re not familiar with Brian Wright, some of this may sound a bit hyperbolic, but spend some time with this album and a good set of speakers, and tell me I’m wrong. Just put it on repeat, then start and finish a 12-pack of beer or a bottle of whiskey, maybe both. Before you’re done, you’ll be howling along, waving your arms, pointing in agreement, and falling over when you try to dance. Or better yet, go see him live. He’s touring the UK and Europe now, so this is album will have to hold you over until April, but fortunately, it can.
Stand Out Tracks: Striking Matches, Blind April, Live Again, Accordion, Mesothelioma, Mean Ol’ Wind, The Good Doctor, Still Got You, Rich Man’s Blues, Maria Sugarcane, Pretty Little Pennies, Had Enough, If You Stay, and Friend.