Lyal Strickland releases album of rural grit and grace
By Ed Peaco
The tensions and rewards of life in the hinterland weave through the songs of Lyal Strickland’s elegant new album, with support from some of the best musicians in the Ozarks.
The singer-songwriter, who works 283 acres near Buffalo purchased by his great-grandparents in 1944, and whose family has farmed in Dallas County since the mid-1800s, writes with firsthand knowledge of small towns and the farming life. He examines these subjects in a lovingly committed and boldly honest manner.
The CD, “Balanced on Barbed Wire,” has a song about too much rain and two others about drought. The album has uplifting songs (“O Arkansas,” “What If We Could Save the World”) and songs of frustration, such as “Not for Me,” which laments town-square decay amid big-box economics.
Of course, descriptions can’t convey the poetry of the lines and the authority of the deep voice. For that, you can head to Galloway Station on Saturday to celebrate the album’s release. Strickland will sing and play guitar in his typical solo format, and Seth Truett will open.
In a recent interview, Strickland offered his perspective on rural life that unfolded as a kind of spoken-word companion to his songs.
“There are sometimes other places we’d like to be, that might be easier. It might be easier to trek off to a city somewhere, or trek off to one of the coasts,” he said.
“But it’s just one of those things where, by God, we’re going to make it work, stick it out. Even though it’s tough and it’s hard, it’s almost a point of pride to sit there and say we’re going to make it through this. We’re tough enough to do it.”
But there’s more to rural life than adversity: “I get to walk the same woods and work the same fields that my great-grandfather did.”
While his lyrics express this tension, the music on “Balanced on Barbed Wire” often conveys serenity.
Jeff Smith of Studio 2100 brings out the wood and taut strings of banjo and resonator guitar (Mark Cassidy), as well as mandolin and violin (Dave Wilson), over generally slow tempos.
Lou Whitney on bass and John Anderson on drums are the connective tissue through most of the tunes.
John Dillon (fiddle) and Steve Cash (harmonica) of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils appear on “Hard to Hold.” Strickland said he reached out to them because the tune reminded him of the Daredevils.
Dillon also contributed a song, “1949,” which had never been recorded, Strickland said. The song tells a mysterious story with vivid but indirect images, with Strickland’s voice gradually rising plaintively as he sings of poverty and suffering.
On three of the tunes, the sustained tones of an organ, played by either Todd Gummerman or Joe Terry (also accordion), instills a restful background. On a fourth, Terry adds muscular chords to the hardest rocking song on the album, “Gettin’ By,” which includes another Daredevil, Dave Painter on slide guitar, as well as Richie Rebuth on lead guitar.
Strickland said he began to manage the family farm about the time he released his previous album. “Balanced on Barbed Wire” is a big step for him, he said — his first in four years, as well as his first to thoroughly examine farming from his own experience of it.