Hope springs—through shadows, over walls, around corners. We can carry or lose it, hold it everlasting or have it wrenched from us. But to have it at all is to be undefeated. Goodbye Road—a Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors collaboration featuring Penny and Sparrow—is a short reminder of how victorious hope makes us.
Ring the Bells starts with a rousing reclamation: “Give back the pieces of my Jesus; take your counterfeit to hell.” It’s a prayerful call to arms—to gather a people, to build a coalition. It’s terrific, especially at a time evangelicals are rallying behind a man who’d burn their Bibles if it’d mean an approval rating higher than Obama’s. It uses the best division—the attempt at distinguishing between what’s right and what must be wrong—to raise a motto of a truly inclusive collective: “Mercy won’t be rationed here; that’s what we’re fighting for.”
“This time I mean it” suggests those on the wrong side of history have had chances—opportunity after opportunity to turn the free will god gave them into goodwill—and yet they’ve been unable or unwilling to get their shit together. So, fuck it. We’ll do it ourselves. Because we won’t die waiting (“Bid the hatred, ‘Fair thee well’”).
“If all is fair in love and war, then what the hell is lovin’ even for?” is, again, the right kind of division. It’s the rejection of whataboutism, of blind partisanship, of the weaponization of the marketplace of ideas, of the bullshit notion that your opinion of me is more important than ethics. It demands we stop hiding behind statues and steeples, imploring us to embrace a more human religion and promising “the sound of justice breaking through,” a wonderful adaptation of joy coming in the morning.
Just Your Memory sounds so good, like Sheryl Crow sitting alone in that chair in her video for Strong Enough. Its open, “Even when everything was gone, even when I got lonely, I never thought that we were wrong,” is the opposite of the fabled retreat of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s more like the embedding woven throughout Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You. It’s a melancholy celebration of something having been worth it (see also, India.Arie’s The Truth).
The echo on “slowly” as he remembers her dancing in a blue dress is fantastic. But she was probably too forgiving. Because as he recollects with “I’m singing and I’m smoking; even though you hate it, you still kiss me,” he’s putting himself before her and revealing that she acquiesced. It’s easy to imagine that wouldn’t last forever. And, of course, it didn’t. He walked away toward his own pursuits: the dreams he held more dearly than her, the dreams he wasn’t fit to share.
And yet he rides in Goodbye Road: “I left my dear, tryin' to find adventure. She spent years tradin' my whiskey out for seltzer.” Those lines continue an incredible back-to-back-to-back run on this EP of opening lyrics setting years of a story arc at once. They also set this track as both the continuation and backstory for Memory.
“I ride alone down Goodbye Road” works because we can go our own way and find it’s not the romance we imagined (“We may not be where we thought we would be”). And it’s wonderful songwriting to hear him roll into that realization with a series of names and labels that sound like Into the Wild-like goals and accomplishments (“Strangers, outcasts, artists, and thieves; misfits, legends, and lost refugees”), and then hear her respond with how he used labels to call her an old disaster. He saved the accolades for himself, the venom for her. She’s an incredible force, though, and wrecks him with “I said, ‘Sticks and stones shouldn’t be thrown from the pulpit, pastor.”
That pastor line also reiterates Ring the Bells’s indictment of any religion that devalues the human experience. And the track’s interpolations of the parable of Paul on the road to Damascus and of Amazing Grace (as the quintessential theme of wayward travel) are great fits.
The cover of I Won’t Back Down is a surprisingly good include. “I know what’s right; I just got one life” reflects a couple things: feeling like we have to choose Goodbye Road sometimes anyway—a rugged individualism—but also a rallying cry to fight for what we believe, which, when paired with Ring the Bells, is a spirited collectivism. It’s where those two powers—so often pitted against each other, so readily presumed to be repelling magnetic forces—work in harmony.
“In a world that keeps on pushing me around, well, I stand my ground.” It’s why “i shall proceed.” is inked on my arm. Because the only way forward is resilience.
May 4, 2018
Jeremy S. H. Griffith · Jonathan Berlin
Abner Ramirez · Amanda Sudano · Andy Baxter · Drew Holcomb · Jeff Lynne · Kyle Jahnke · Tom Petty