Review: Joseph Allen White “Things Change”

Joseph Allen White “Things Change”

22 Feb, 2011 Kevin Mathews

In the annals of pop and rock music, much ink has been spilled by music journalists analyzing and critiquing the confessional “break-up” albums of yore.  The ones that immediately come to mind are of course, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear and Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love.  How much of these songs of heartbreak, anger and guilt are artistic fabrications is anyone’s guess naturally, but the back story definitely spices things up for the avid listener considerably.

If you believe what you read in singer-songwriter Joseph Allen White’s biography, this debut album took shape due to the personal tragedy of the demise of his 8 year-old marriage.  At that point, we are given to understand that White had barely begun to learn how to play the guitar when he discovered his wife’s infidelity and began to write songs as a means to deal with his dilemma.  Certainly, for fans of confessional country-folk music this album, appropriately titled Music From the Heart, is a silver lining in White’s pitch dark cloud.

A blessing in disguise for all concerned?  Perhaps.  For music lovers, songs like “Things Change”, “The End of Us” and “I Will Miss You” will resonate strongly especially with the background firmly in mind.

The fragile “Things Change” is a detailed chronology of a relationship that began with young lovers, estrangement, finally betrayal of the marriage vows and the inevitable breakup.  The impermanence of love is the obvious theme here as White sings, “she’ll go drink with friends and I’ll drink alone/she would never call me on the way back home/then on one fateful night, I had done all I can and found herself in the arms of another man“. Poignant words but one must question the choice to put White’s heartfelt vocals through an auto-tune software, which somewhat deflates the emotion.

“I Will Miss You” is a sad reflection of what White had lost and depending on one’s perspective, that depressing feeling threatens to drag the song down, especially in the chorus, “I will always miss you/You were taken away too soon/Hear your voice, see your smile/Under the light of the moon“.  That said, there is an almost slow rock anthemic quality about the chorus that can either be viewed as cliched or a deliberate attempt to contrast lyrics with music.

“The End of Us” is self-explanatory.  Very literally, a divorce ballad, as White gets specific about how he felt and what he thought when his divorce became final.  Joined by backing singer Lauren Rebel, there is added pathos when presented as a duet.  Led by a catchy piano hook, melody line and revealing lyrics, “walked out together on that rainy day/looked at your eyes, didn’t know what to say/wanted to hug you and tell you goodbye/but I was too afraid that I’d start to cry“.  Yes, all very maudlin but to his credit White does not dwell on misfortune but is able to look to the future as well: “it’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of us.”

On that positive note, it’s heartening that the album is bookended by songs of hope.  The opening “Complete Me” is a love song that indicates that White has moved on and started a new life with someone else, “You’re are the sweetest dream, the greatest song, the air I breathe/like that famous music scene, oh yeah, you complete me“: the romantic words of an obviously smitten man.  The final track “Again” was the song that started this impressive song cycle.  It’s clear that it’s a song of redemption even as White learns how to love and trust someone all over again but with the expected cautionary reservation, “I won’t rush in/I won’t fall down again/I can’t let go/I can’t get hurt again”.

In conclusion, there’s enough joy, pain and hope in Music From the Heart that will appeal to music listeners who need to connect with the emotional aspects of songwriting.  No problem with that, with the added bonus that together with producer Andy Anderson, White has constructed a soundscape that is sensitive to the message (and moral) of Music From the Heart, “life may knock you down, but it’s in the getting up again that defines whether we succeed or fail”.

Truly inspirational.

Reviewed by Kevin Mathews
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)