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The songs Lyal Strickland writes are like the world he lives in: A little tough sometimes, doggedly inspiring at others, but always absolutely real. Strickland doubles as a working farmer so when he writes about surviving in modern-day America, he’s speaking from experience.

2014’s Balanced on Barbed Wire was his sixth album, but the first to get national distribution and acclaim; winning raves like “Pure Americana, melodic and warm; lyrically thoughtful and full of feel” (Popdose) and music with “Universal resonance…rural grit and grace” (No Depression). Now comes Preservation, Strickland’s most personal work to date. 

The more tender songs like “Pretty Good Core” sit comfortably alongside anthems like “Minimum Wage.” One major key to the sound is pedal steel legend Robby Turner, who’s played with Sturgill Simpson, Waylon Jennings, The Dixie Chicks and can currently be found with Chris Stapleton’s band. “We have some songs here that are soft and fragile and a couple that are pretty rambunctious, so we thought a lot about making it all sound cohesive. Robby made that happen.” Strickland says.

Strickland’s natural territory remains the real-life working world. In “The Hotel Maid” a couple deals with mounting tax bills. “Clyde and His Clippers” asks whether a beloved small-town business can survive the invasion of big-box stores while “Minimum Wage” asks whether anyone can survive on a paycheck that’s less than a living wage.

On Preservation there are just as many songs about interpersonal relationships. Here again his characters are up against desperate circumstances, whether it’s a yearning to make things right after a divorce on “Gone For A Weekend” or the turmoil of dealing withan alcoholic partner. 

“Overall I’d say I was in a more of a raw state this time around, and was open to writing about things that cut a little deeper.” That includes his grandmother’s struggles with dementia, a topic he deals with unflinchingly on “Her Way Back Home”—a song as much concerned with her resilience of spirit as the struggles to care for her. 

Two cover tunes make the list on ‘Preservation’. “Always Make the Mistake”, written by The Young Novelists’ Graydon James, is a country-folk heartbreaker with tender harmonies that reaches into the lesser talked about complications of a love triangle. The last track on Preservation, a cover of “It’ll Shine When It Shines” (the title track to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ 1974 sophomore album) is both a fitting conclusion and a nod to Strickland’s musical roots. “What could be more Ozarks than the Dares?