There’s an air of borrowed time about Russel Hoke’s The Melancholy Traveller. Not that Hoke has passed or is about to, but that he’d seemingly hung his instruments for good by 2016. Not merely hung them up, but sold them outright. That seems like shutting a door on the idea, but thankfully Hoke wasn’t quite finished with us just yet. He borrowed a guitar and banjo, and in an Alan Lomax meets modern times approach, recorded some material he’d hidden away to an outdated cell phone at home. As such, there’s a welcome roughness to the songs here, a private press film that can’t quite help but settle onto the unvarnished recordings. Considering he filled a double cassette anthology before hanging it up last time, this absolute trove of new material is so much more than leftovers from his cut out pile.
The songs are filled with pain, simple pleasures, emptiness, and hope. Hoke has an inimitable hold on the qualities that sent oral traditions from family to family, filling songbooks with the kind of universal truths that somehow became more ingrained with the barrel bare pluck of banjo or the oaken caress of guitar strings. Each song on The Melancholy Traveler seems both set for sunset rounds with family and friends and equally set for the solace of a back porch, filling the silence and loneliness before they grows too large and consume the heart once and for all. Hoke’s name might not yet be etched into the canon of American songwriters just yet, but this collection wedded to his previous compendium might just give the name the nudge it deserves.
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