When an album starts with a song titled “This World Is a Dangerous Place”, it’s hard to know whether that’s a dire warning or a mere observation. In the case of Ben Glover’s Atlantic, it’s a bit of both. The tune goes on to sketch out details of life that are not so thoroughly drawn as to block either interpretation or interpolation. The listener can still inject herself into the specifically vague scene, whether as participant or witness, and come out the other side all the better for it.
Not so for “Oh Soul”, wherein Glover summons his inner tent revival preacher man. This is a hymn for the 21st century that makes you want to throw your hands in the air and ask for forgiveness even if you don’t necessarily need it. Here, redemption awaits in the cleansing waters of the river, if not in the chorus of the song or the hallowed memory of Robert Johnson that Glover invokes. Johnson’s ghost, along with the dirty grit of the South, also infuses the bluesy rock strains of “Too Long Gone”. This is pure, unadulterated Americana as done up by an Irishman. And he’s really just hitting his stride.
As might be expected, “True Love’s Breaking My Heart” calls forth a woeful steel moan on top of a lonesome waltz, while the driving acoustic guitar of “Prisoner” sounds exactly like you want it to as Glover sings of Delta mud and pecan trees. Starting with “Prisoner”, the middle section of Atlantic really delivers. The ominously sparse and uneasy Southern gothic drama of “Blackbirds” — co-written and performed with Gretchen Peters — would make Faulkner and McCullers proud. As the piece rounds the corner of the second chorus, a fuzzed-out guitar slides in, a harbinger of the darkness on the horizon.
With all the talk of blackbirds, whiskey, rivers, and “curtains of calico”, it is evident that Glover has really done his part to soak up Southern culture. Nowhere is that more clear than on the casually languid “The Mississippi Turns Blue”. But Glover only lets us linger for that moment before he offers up another tale of personal reckoning in “How Much Longer Can We Bend?” This one, though not necessarily optimistic, is set in framework that doesn’t feel altogether hopeless. By the time “Take and Pay” drops, you actually want to clap and stomp and shout hallelujah. Closing the set, “New Year’s Day” is so quiet you can hear both the background studio noise and the melancholy of letting go. Underneath those pangs, producer Neilson Hubbard lays down piano accents which are reminiscent of Matt Rollings’ work on some of Lyle Lovett’s best songs. Atlantic couldn’t ask for a more perfect coda.