Joseph Allen White, at one point during Things Change, lays out the central conundrum facing the heartbroken: “How do you make new tomorrows,” White sings during “Circle,” “when you can’t erase the past?” White began this journey as his eight-year marriage fell apart. Having just begun working as a musician, he found an emotional refuge, and a bridge to the next chapter. Together with fellow guitarists Jon Callender and Joe Harmer, he crafted a country-tinged rock record that confronts his own stinging loneliness even as it recounts his steady progress into a new life.
He explores that pain through finely wrought moments like the title track, which follows ardor’s arc from first date to wedding day, then to what comes next. “We do our best to remain the same,” White sings, “but sometimes, things change.” There was too much fighting, he adds, and not enough fun. Suddenly, after a revelation of infidelity, it was over. That’s a lot to sort through, as he tries to come to grips with what happened, and then to love again. In keeping, Things Change can be a dark and brooding ride. But White never gives in to despair, and the album is better for it.
A jarring polyrhythm adds the right complexity to “Just Lost,” which moves from an angry Steve Earle-sounding verse to a towering chorus. White repeats the title with a conquered romanticism. “Circle,” driven by a desolate piano accompaniment by Andy Anderson, finds the main character desperately trying to move on. Ultimately, in a shivering bellow straight out of Hootie and the Blowfish, White admits that the lonely maze of being alone is simply too confusing. “The End of Us,” a duet with Lauren Rebel, deftly describes the void left at the very moment of a matrimonial dissolution – when the divorce papers are signed the lawyer’s office.
“Piercing Green (Come Back to Me)” with a chugging orchestral arrangement by Anderson, is emotionally raw plea for a return to the way things were before. Even songs that don’t focus specifically on his own breakup, like “I Will Miss You” (a swirling memory of a love lost to some unnamed illness), pack a devastating punch. Glimpses of a marriage’s lasting comforts flash by with touching specificity. “Wouldn’t change a thing,” White adds. “You’ll be forever in my head.”
“Just Friends,” with its easy backroad gait, finds White’s character sorting through a series of failed attempts to connect with a familiar face. He ends up singing the song’s two-word title with an angry clinch. Not that it’s all about loss. White eventually gets back in the game, or tries to, with “Love the Thought.” A dancehall moment, this musical embrace so full of promise, opens his heart again to the possibilities that still exist. Learning to trust is going to be difficult, on both sides, but there is the first glistening shard of hope. Then “First Night” bursts out with a perky expectancy, followed by “Tracy,” which puts a name to his new love. “Again” is a pop testament of faith in beginning again.
An optimist’s steady faith is tested in the tuneful, tender “Wait to Win,” making it difficult to open herself to passion’s prospect. White offers the lyric with an affecting weariness. Eventually, that faith is rewarded: “She has an image in her mind, of the way it’s supposed to be,” White sings, “and now it is within her sights.”
“Complete Me” is a direct accounting of the small, true joys of a blossoming relationship. There’s not much new lyrically here, from holding hands with stars in your eyes to referencing the film “Jerry Maguire.” Still it’s hard to argue with this sunny optimism, and the tune is one of several that provide a needed counterweight against the darker themes that dominate Things Change.
In the end, White seems to be taking the album’s title to heart. Sometimes, things change for the worse. Sometimes, for the better.
Reviewed by Nick DeRiso
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)