We live in a time where it’s difficult to refer to something as Americana and not let out a slight cringe or wince at the thought of what it represents; America itself is in one of the most notably low valleys of it’s historically high and low existence, and as such, anything that’s even the slightest bit celebratory can feel a little bit off. Americana itself is often heartbreaking — it’s dusty and reverential, and Richmond VA’s Saw Black is one of the few to blow the dust off of the genre and breathe a new life into it. Their last record, Azalea Days, is one that reeked of heartache and learning to cope with the loss of someone you love, which is a stark difference from the kind of optimistic folk that we hear on Water Tower.
The album opens with the titular track, a celebratory and spirited anthem celebrating new love and this renewed sense of optimism. Black wastes no time digging into what makes Americana feel so important; lyrics so pristine and well-worn that they paint a picture that you just can’t shake, choosing to open the record with a sprawling “Sometimes it takes a few times to get it right/Climbing a ladder in the middle of the night/I didn’t think that I would fall in love again” before taking us into a euphoric chorus of “I’m gonna write your name up on the water tower/I’m gonna tell everybody we’re together/I’m gonna spray paint each bubble letter/and draw a heart around it” that ellicits such a pure kind of small-town romance that you can’t help but smile at a gesture that seems so futile, but also romantically grand.
Tracks like “Love Song” speak to a romanticism that’s a little more tangible than what’s presented on “Water Tower.” It’s a slow-burn that relies heavily on Black’s stunning vocals and crawls through each verse before diving into the depths of a gentle heartbreak; stunning imagery in each verse gives way to a chorus of “There’s no beat/That could bring you back/No hook and no line/that could change the past/There’s no verse/That could make you mine/No bridge in the world that could turn back time/butI keep driving/with the radio/praying for a love song.”
On the whole, Water Tower is the kind of record that celebrates the dirt-road backbone of Americana without getting lost in it. Banjos roar through the background and Saw Black’s Virginia twang is on full display, but the meat of this record comes from the incredible storytelling and the amount of heart that you can hear behind every word. No single piece of the story he’s telling on this record feels unimportant — each track is a chapter that needs to be read in order to grasp the full weight of what he’s done with Water Tower: paint a sweeping and grand picture of what it’s like to fall in and out of love, to capture the highs and lows of human existence, and package it all up in a handful of songs that never seem to get worn out.
Water Tower is out May 18th on Crystal Pistol Records and can be pre-ordered here.