It's been more than five years since Joe Farren's last record, a debut number on which he showed off his multi-instrumental chops and riffed on Americana themes. 'Til the Day was full of everything from big band numbers to solo, singer-songwriter fare, with plenty of pop sensibility.
This time around, Open Skies reflects Farren's recent travels, which took him to Nashville and farther south to his current homebase, Florida, and turned those Americana leanings into full-on contemporary country. The fiddles are hot, the vocals are outlandish and fun, and there's plenty of vamp and strut. If he's not wearing cowboy boots and a hat for his Frog and Turtle release show this weekend, I'll be severely disappointed.
Farren is a damn good piano player, though, and when he strings that through it lends an old-time, cowboy feel to the songs, which grounds them a little better than the full-on '80s pop that much of contemporary country has become.
"American Dream," the album's first single, is full of bounding piano chords and an easy snare line. Farren recalls the "snow and freezing rain" of his Maine roots, but it's clear he had to take flight in order to chase his particular version of the dream. Songs like "Love Junky," "Drinking to Forget What's Her Name," and "Four-Letter Word" are more hard-charging, the kinds of songs you hear in the Nashville honky-tonks and are good for drinking cheap beer and getting rowdy.
The Nashville session-player fiddle, especially, rips throughout the album, and the dobro riff after Farren gets a chuckle out of the title line in "Drinking" has a great bite to it.
"Get Ready" is probably the catchiest thing here. "Here comes my angel, so pure and so bright/But she'll be dancing like he devil, come Saturday night," he sings, like a combo of Brian Setzer and Keith Urban, and you'd be hard-pressed not to dance along with her.
Farren can get nostalgic, too, though. "Who's That Standing in My Shoes?" is a sad-sack, love-lost kind of thing, where he finds someone else standing at the altar with his gal. The closing "If I Fall Down" has a pretty quick pace to it, with a banjo in the background, but he's battered and broken and his faith is quavering.
Everything turns out alright in the end, of course, and that's the kind of record Farren's made here, something fun and heartfelt and generally upbeat even when something might have done him wrong.
Open Skies | Released by Joe Farren | at Frog and Turtle, in Westbrook | May 23 | joefarren.com