Foy Vance – To Memphis
Easy Listening | Country | Folk
Americana is a tough genre to pin down. The music one person immediately thinks of when hearing the word will differ slightly from the next. Many better writers and thinkers than I have tried in vain to set in stone what it really is. You just know it when you hear it. It’s a little bit rock, a smidge of folk, a dash of country. Some of the most recognisable and agreed upon hallmarks include the warm glow of an organ and the soft swell of slide guitar to craft an atmosphere. A few breezy Tom Petty-esque riffs to add some zest, and maybe some harmonica, fiddle or brass here and there to shake things up. Acts like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Band and the aforementioned Tom Petty are commonly held up as the paragons of… whatever Americana is.
Foy seems to be working by some other definition with To Memphis, his second record of 2019; his ‘Americana’ album to follow up his soul record From Muscle Shoals. I’d have said that Foy was already an Americana artist, but if anything he seems to have moved away from the style rather lean further into it. All the usual hallmarks are mostly absent, and in their place you have gentle 50s ballads and sparse and simple traditional country. Rather than evoke wild horses astride desert canyons, or shimmering classic cars racing down a highway in search of nothing but the next horizon, instead it sounds like something that would sputter out of a dusty radio by a creaky rocking chair out on a dilapidated old porch. It feels lifeless and doesn’t play to Foy’s strengths at all.
There a few rare gems to be found; ‘The Strong Hand’ and ‘I Won’t Let You Fall’ deliver on the Americana promise, and the chorus of ‘Cradled In Arms’ is wonderfully uplifting. The overwhelmingly obvious highlight however is ‘Only The Artist’, whose dark and introspective vibe harks back to his earlier work. Sadly these are the exceptions to the norm though. The problem isn’t entirely stylistic in origin either, part of it is down to the release. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and having two records in a year with a constant stream of single releases leading up to them meant that the record just didn’t feel special when the release date finally arrived. Being preceded by a vastly superior record and having very similar artwork doesn’t help matters either, in fact it makes it feel like just a companion piece.
After From Muscle Shoals, one of my favourite records of the year, its follow up To Memphis really falls short. Foy is one of my all time favourite artists, and all his previous records rank among my favourite collections of music to be found. So to find a record of his that I don’t like comes as a bitter sting. Maybe hearing the songs live will shed a new light on them? Maybe after a few years I’ll be able to detach it in my mind from the record that came before it and appreciate it in its own right? I certainly hope so.