Music

Album Premiere: Will Stewart Looks Homeward on ‘County Seat’

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The unforgettable poet, storyteller and activist Maya Angelou once said  “The truth is, you can never leave home. You take it with you — it’s under your fingernails, it’s in the hair follicles; it’s in the way you smile…it’s all there no matter where you go. You can take on the affectations and the postures of other places and even learn to speak their ways. But the truth is, home is between your teeth.”

The idea of home has long been an integral part of country music. “Green, Green Grass of Home,” written by Claude “Curly” Putnam, Jr. and popularized by Porter Wagoner, is about a prisoner on death row who dreams of returning home once last time. In Dolly Parton’s “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy,” the song’s narrator mourns as much for the loss of her sense of home as she does for the boy she left there.

Leaving home and returning to see it through new eyes is something Will Stewart explores in rich detail in his forthcoming debut solo album County Seat (out April 6), which Wide Open Country is premiering in full today.

Stewart says the album was inspired by his return to his home state of Alabama.

“I think the landscape and natural beauty of Alabama really informed the album sonically,” Will Stewart told Wide Open Country. “I would take weekend trips to area lakes and rivers as often as I could and started really trying to get in a good head space via outdoor activity. It was during that first year back that I wrote the bulk of County Seat.”

Listen to County Seat in full below.

The album kicks off with “Sipsey,” a folk-rocker about the elusive search for the freedom of youth. The song was partially inspired by Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness Preserve.

“I’d do anything to find that feeling again,” Stewart sings. “And there’s something strange in the cold, Sipsey wind.”

Songs like the somber “Brush Arbor” paint a portrait of the modern south with all its beauty and flaws, while the striking “Equality, AL” finds a balance between the stark loneliness and peacefulness of life in the deep south.

In classic country tradition, “Heaven Knows Why” explores the use of vices to heal a heartbreak. (“Lord knows I’m tryin’ to get my mind right/ If drinkin’ don’t kill me, she might”) It calls to mind George Jones’ drinkin’ song heartbreaker “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will).” In fact, Stewart says the Possum, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller and alt-country band Cowboy Junkies were a significant influence while making the album.

“One of my all time favorite albums is The Trinity Session by Cowboy Junkies. I’ve always wanted to make an album that tried to strike that vibe — a sort of damaged country/Americana. Sad music but strangely beautiful,” Stewart says. “I set out to make an album that blended a lot of lush sound and traditional songwriting structure.”
Time seems to move slowly along the quiet byways of the American south and that feeling isn’t lost on County Seat. 
The Dylan-esque “Dark Halls” is a soaring tune about inevitable change that comes with the passage of time, while the spellbinding title track follows a man begging for something to interrupt the unyielding monotony of daily life.
With County Seat, Will Stewart made an album for the home that we carry with us wherever we may go.
County Seat was co-produced by Stewart and Lester Nuby III and recorded at Ol Elegante Studio in Birmingham, Ala.

You can currently catch Stewart on tour in his home state of Alabama.

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Album Premiere: Will Stewart Looks Homeward on ‘County Seat’