Call it a hunch. Singer-Songwriter Jason Eady knew he had the songs for I Travel On when he booked the studio time--even if none of them were officially fleshed out onto paper just yet. Still, a songwriter just sometimes knows. A month-long burst of songwriting and channeling his creativity would prove the Fort Worth-based artist right. Just call it a hunch.
For the first time, Eady enlisted his sharp touring band--Kevin Foster, Giovanni Carnuccio and Naj Conklin--to join him in the studio. Accompanying them at Nashville's Blue Room Studios was the pairing of Grammy-nominated musicians Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley as well as harmony vocal contributions from Eady's wife Courtney Patton. With co-producer Kevin Welch at his side, Eady and company capture the 11 songs of I Travel On in their most pure and robust form.
"I just knew that the band, we were just on to something," Eady tells Wide Open Country. "We were feeling it at the shows and it was taking a life of its own. That sound we were creating, it was even morphing the older songs into something new and fresh."
That, in essence, is what I Travel On banks on. It's an unwavering familiarity and comfort level between Eady and company that shines brightest. They're running on instinct that's been sustained by chemistry built and refined by a steady tour schedule. With that setting the new album's pace, Eady's songs sound organic and as natural as ever. It's as though they're running through them for the first and thousandth time all at once.
That constant tour schedule, one that took them to 38 states last year alone, was also instrumental in what Eady wrote. In some ways, I Travel On plays out like a travel log of pitstops and window-side observations.
"We had just come off the road when I started writing," says Eady. "That's where my head was. That's where we had spent the last six months. It's what I was feeling."
Songs like bluegrass blazer "I Lost My Mind in Carolina," the back porch picking "Calaveras County" and early morning contemplater "I Travel On" all find Eady out on the journey. He's constantly throwing us in the midst of a character's plight. Some are lighthearted. Others are weighted with a sobering depth. But through it all, Eady introduces us to a varied cast who are all finding their way, one way or another. They're moving forward. It's that specifically, that binds them together.
"Your circumstances in life are always going to come and go," says Eady. "You have to be steady on the path. You have to keep moving. Anything you start out on, it's to conquer it. That's always the objective. But as you get into it, you realize the journey is the fun part. That's the whole point. You may not get to the end. You may end up taking a detour and getting somewhere else."
It's the revelations found on the album-closing title track, one written with Texas songwriter Max Stalling, that perhaps offer the most insight on Eady's "keep pressing forward" mantra. With ample amounts of twangy dobro and a slow, steady gait, "I Travel On" has a Tex-Mex border feel (or, maybe more apt, one inspired by New Mexican mountains). There's a cool, crisp breeze gently flowing as Eady sings lines such as "Maybe someday I'll find out somewhere along this road, I travel on." It feels like a warm cup of coffee and a sunrise inching its way up past the horizon.
Eady and Stalling wrote "I Travel On" while both their wives were in the studio working on Patton's latest album, the excellent What It's Like to Fly Alone, which Heather Stalling played fiddle on.
"Max and I stayed at the house and wrote that song," adds Eady. "As soon as we finished it, I knew that was going to be the title of the album. If there's a theme, that's it. Keep moving on. Put one foot in front of the other."
The standout number "The Climb" is a crystalline odyssey built on experience and time-tested wisdom. Eady and company kick it into higher gear with fat wallops of stand-up bass and in the pocket grooves on songs such as "That's Alright," "Now or Never" and the frenetic accelerator "Pretty When I Die." It's there where that spontaneous feel really blossoms. Marked by dobro, fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar picking, they're rich with nuance.
Even though Eady and company's vibrant sound is often light and brisk, they do venture into a darker toned territory at times. There's a sultry steak on the smoldering blues storyteller "Always A Woman." Revolving around a repetitive lone chord, "Always A Woman" brims with blues accents and philosophy you can only find at the end of a bar.
"That comes from me not knowing what I wanted to do that day," says Eady. "I'd sat down with the guitar and got into that chord. I thought it'd eventually move onto a different one, but it just never did. I kept thinking that'd it'd tell me when it needed to change. Sometimes, I'd try and force it and it'd just pull me right out of the song."
Before too long, Eady had written the entire thing without ever leaving that initial chord that moved him in the first place. Eady says it ended up being the final song they recorded simply because they didn't know how to treat it.
"How do you treat a one chord song--especially with all acoustic instruments," says Eady. "If you have amps, pedal effects, keyboards you could give it some lifts, but with this album being all acoustic, I didn't know what we'd do. There's still some people who refuse to believe there's not something electric on that song."
There's a stormy tension created when Foster rakes his bow across a muted fiddle string. Combine that with the distortion made by Ickes dobro and it's a goosebumps-worthy moment that's as chilling as they come. Wizardry plain and simple.
Close your eyes while listening. You'll swear Eady and company have moved the living room furniture out in the front yard and set up camp right there on the hardwoods. Built on those single-take sessions and undeniable chemistry, I Travel On captures Eady's road-hardened outfit in a rarefied prime.
They walk a fine line between raw and visceral moments built on spur-of-the-moment magic and knowing when to hone in on a specific feel. At times, they press forward ahead of Eady's country croon and agile storytelling. Still, they know when to settle into a bed of scene setting hues and let Eady do the heavy lifting.
Much like Eady's critically acclaimed self-titled album of last year, I Travel On finds one of Americana's best voices and observationalists in peak form. Even while we find Eady pushing forward throughout, we never hear him pressing or rushed. There's some comfort in that.
Eady's I Travel On is due out August 10 via Old Guitar Records. Eady is currently on a cross-country tour through the fall. For more information, visit his official schedule here.