Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

Magnolia Records / Thirty Tigers, 2019


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the most remarkable things about Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors’ 2017 album Souvenir was how it managed to both live in the moment of its birth and rise above it, addressing darkness and division in admirably direct terms while making a conscious choice to frame it as a “Fight For Love.”

Tennessee native Holcomb is nothing if not earnest, but over the course of Souvenir and new album Dragons, it feels like he and The Neighbors (Nathan Dugger on guitars and keys, and Rich Brinsfield on bass) have reached a new level in terms of translating those core values and musical instincts into plain-spoken folk-pop/Americana tunes that are both engaging and affecting. The songs have always felt purposeful and crafted with care, but on these last two albums they feel just a little bigger, delivering more space, more hooks, more power, and greater impact.

The opening one-two punch of “Family” and “End Of The World” underscores this impression, the former a big-boned back-porch singalong, the latter a sky-hugging folk-rock anthem. The punchy, hooky “Family” explores the highs (“All in this together / We’re takin’ a chance / Like birds of a feather / Take off your shoes and dance”) and lows (“On the way to the city / Laughin’ in the rain / It ain’t always pretty / Can drive you insane”) of life in a big extended family. Then “End Of The World” finds Holcomb taking on a preacher’s aspect to urge his congregation onward: “Don’t eulogize on my behalf / I’m a long way from epitaph / I’m only gettin’ started on this lost highway / I am brave and I am not afraid.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Next up, “But I’ll Never Forget The Way You Make Me Feel” is a deceptively simple, subtly beautiful love song with a timeless feel to it, co-written by Drew and his wife and former bandmate Ellie Holcomb, who sings  gorgeous harmonies. The title track revisits the stripped-down hoedown singalong feel of “Family,” this time slowing it down for a metaphor-rich fever dream about finding your purpose in life.

The album’s second act finds Holcomb exploring familiar themes. There’s a thoughtful/wistful mid-tempo slice of parental life (“See The World”), a swaying folk-rock rumination on the pitfalls of all kinds of desire (“You Want What You Can’t Have,” co-written with and featuring Lori McKenna on harmony vocals), and the airy, philosophical ballad “Maybe.” “You Make It Look Easy” leans more to the rock side of things, a jangly, airy road song that leads smartly into the album’s standout track.

Drew Holcomb’s brother Jay was born paralyzed from the chest down, three years younger than Drew, and died when Drew was 17. “I started writing songs in college as a way to deal with the loss. In those early years, I only wrote one song explicitly about him, and have struggled to do it again in the following fourteen years,” Drew says. In “You Never Leave My Heart,” he re-enters his own memories of the day of Jay’s funeral and narrates scene after compelling scene from that day, channeling the laughter, the tears, and most of all the disorienting gut-punch of overwhelming grief. The song is a magnificent tribute and the vocal may be the best Holcomb has ever sung, raw and honest and rich with emotion, his voice breaking just a bit as he sings of “joy in the kitchen” and again near the end as he repeats the title over and over. The song is heartfelt and stunning, a moment of purest vulnerability and truth-telling.

Closer “Bittersweet” makes a nice coda, airy and elegiac, reminding us that “Every curtain falls eventually.” Like Switchfoot, Holcomb and the Neighbors return repeatedly to spiritual and philosophical concerns (“Maybe we’re lost in what we want, not what we need / Everything is never enough”) without ever slipping into religious dogma; it’s a delicate balancing act that both acts typically pull off well.

Dragons finds Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors exploring familiar themes with all the earnest conviction fans have come to expect, and while Holcomb mostly stays within his comfort zone, “You Never Leave My Heart” reminds you of what he’s capable of achieving when he digs deep and opens that big heart up to the world.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2019 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magnolia Records / Thirty Tigers, and is used for informational purposes only.