Updated: Mar 9
One of the joys of fandom is watching your favorite musicians blossom as an artist. I’ve been lucky enough to experience or feel that some of my favorite bands are actually growing with me through the years. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to follow a band’s career long enough to watch them release their seminal album, record, or collection that will go on to define their careers. I can still remember the first time I heard Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It's Morning, Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
This week, Drayton Farley released his third album Twenty on High. Farley, is a relative newcomer to the Country music landscape, releasing only a couple of acoustic records and a handful of singles. Twenty on High is a collection of 10 unbelievably good country songs that eclipse his previous works and instantly elevate him to among some genre’s best songwriting. With my first listen I felt that I had just heard an instant classic.
Farley says, "My new album, Twenty on High, will serve as my breakout record and I believe these ten new songs to be my absolute best work yet. This album will be my first-ever full-band release. The goal was to keep the songs honest and true and their stories at the forefront. To have the music serve the song but still make a record that would stand the test of time. I believe that’s exactly what we’ve done here and I couldn’t be prouder."
Farley instantly draws comparisons to his fellow Alabamian Jason Isbell for his storytelling ability, but also the timbre of his vocals. Twenty on High was produced by Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit and also features Chad Gamble and Jimbo Heart from The 400 Unit.
The lead track, “Stop the Clock”, sets a tone of introspection that is woven into every song of the record. The opening lyrics “You know the road I grew up on. It was chert rock dirt and old dog bones. Red dust covered everything we owned. Painted the whole damn place” instantly transport the listener to small-town Alabama. Farley paints a vivid picture with ease.
The album’s lead single “Norfolk Blues” is an anthem for the over-worked, tired, and weary. The chorus sings “It's all the way it's always been. Work all day until the days all spent. Can't afford to break so you always bend. It's all the way it's always been.” This blue-collar anthem is sung over a banging southern rock track in one of the most electric performances of the album.
The back half of the album features standout tracks like “Devil’s in NOLA”, a twangy country tune, and ends with “All My Years Have Passed”, a classic Farley acoustic closer that is as introspective as it is melancholy. The back half also includes my favorite track, “Alabama Moon”, a beautiful song with the vocal accompaniments of Waxahatchee ‘s Katie Crutchfield. While Crutchfield is known for having one of the most distinctive voices in folk music, she blends effortlessly with Farley’s tenor.
The last 5 years have seen a new crop of country music stars emerge. Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan will be carrying the torch lit by Jason Isbell, the Drive By Truckers, and Sturgill Simpson. After listening to Twenty on High, I believe that Drayton Farley deserves to be one of the torchbearers for the next generation of country music stars. If he never attains that level of success, I’ll be satisfied with this record. Twenty on High is an excellent country music album.