Belying his tender age, singer/songwriter John Calvin Abney opens his debut LP, Better Luck, with a skiffle beat on “Stepladder.” Weaving in amongst electric guitar, Calvin toys with convention a la Dylan plugging in. The Oklahoma native continues to confound expectations throughout Better Luck, from the dramatic assignation of the folkish “Scarecrow” and the affected blues of the urgent “Cut the Rope” to the brilliant but out-of-place renaissance ballad “Museums” and crashing closer “Dark Horse Army.”
I can’t explain
How I still smell your hair
In the wind for the rain
Peppered with love songs like the countrified blind faith of “Dallas City Lights,” the self-effacing title track with its prismatic rhythm and country blues of album standout “I Can’t Choose,” Better Luck covers a wide swath of styles thanks to guest musicians John Moreland, Kyle Reid, Peter Labberton and Jacob Winik. Augmenting Abney’s instrumental heroics, songs like the shuffling “Sirens” highlight Abney’s musical dexterity, making up any ground lost to his nasal delivery which ranges from a paper-edge whistle to a hushed whisper. A more seasoned voice would lend authenticity to Dust Bowl drama “James and Julie” and the lunking blues of “Gold Silver.”
Bearing only minor flaws, Better Luck is a crackerjack debut that marks the emergence of a burgeoning songwriter who should only get better with age.
Stream/purchase Better Luck below or at upcoming live dates.