Songs are such an intrinsic part of John Paul White’s DNA that inevitably they will continue to seep out. Resisting the latest batch has proved difficult for one half of the hugely successful duo The Civil Wars and luckily for a widening fan base they have evolved into a significant album. BEULAH is John Paul’s first full length release since the high profile split with musical partner Joy Williams midway through a UK tour in 2012. The ten song collection sees John Paul in explorative mode largely taking you in search of the roots of Southern rock ‘n’ soul, albeit in an intimate stripped back style.
Hailing from the area, and now residing in Florence Alabama, indicates that John Paul has a heritage steeped in the lore of the Yellowhammer state and what better place to visit and record a couple of tracks than the legendary FAME Studio in nearby Muscle Shoals. Throw in the production expertise of Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner and the infrastructure is in place to maximise the fruits of John Paul’s inspiration. The result is an undemanding presentation, adept at offering a blank canvas side dish to enable individual interpretation. What does make this record work is the way the vocals melt into the instrumentation thus engaging immediate listener attention.
Apart from the couple of tracks recorded at FAME ,the bulk of the material surfaced at White’s own Single Lock studio of which the in-house label has proudly churned out records for St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Dylan LeBlanc among others. Going back to the two songs getting the retro Muscle Shoals treatment, it isn’t too difficult to detect the rock riffs in ‘What’s So’ and savour the moment the organ kicks into ‘The Martyr’.
Two numbers which stand out probably owe that to their left field stature in the context of the collection. The feisty acoustic rocker ‘Fight for You’ has the detected influence of Tanner in terms of his other job and sees White turn up the heat a notch. In contrast the retro pop flavour to ‘I’ve Been Over This Before’, equipped with the ethereal backing and accompanying vocals of The Secret Sisters, leaps out as a pleasing deviant. While on the topic of pop melodies, ‘The Once & Future Queen’ is a prime example of this being a record not too difficult to find its listening groove.
Essentially the overall vibes of BEULAH are defined by the lo-fi echoes of the evocative opener ‘Black Leaf’, the sensitive ‘Make You Cry’ and the simple but effective closer ‘I’ll Get Even’. The catchy ‘Hate the Way You Love Me’ also fits this interpretation of the record, while ‘Hope I Die’ does possess a funky beat as the whispering vocals bridge into a soulful chorus. Lyrically John Paul is in a deeply personal and reflective mood with an open invitation to share in his inner thoughts.
The wider music world knows what John Paul White can do in duo collaboration and the release of BEULAH reveals his solo work to be fully prepared for similar adulation. It is entirely free of agenda and beautifully crafted to get the measure of its originator, and surroundings steeped in the heritage of outstanding music.