Jeremy Squires has been through a lot, and it shows on his latest album, Hymnal, out on Blackbird Record Label. The Nashville singer-songwriter bares his soul on songs that are honest, almost to a fault. In an intimate and peeled-back setting of guitar, violin, and vocals, there are few places for his lyrics–about heartbreak and loss–to hide behind. The album is full of sorrow; we don’t need this album as much as Squires needs it, for it feels crucial to his healing process. Bereaved and made even more heavy-hearted by a woeful hush of country and folk, Hymnal aches.
The album opens with the doleful “Don’t You Cry”, a song about a dissolving marriage–his own. Above slow, plaintive folk guitar strums, a violin, played by Autumn Rose Brand, soars with long tones. Squires calls for help: “Darling, save me from the wailing sea.” His voice sounds shaken and delicate. He asks to be broken and to “carry me over the mountain where the flowers bloom”. This track and the following songs on the album feel like dispatches from a battered soul. As if there’s little room to sink lower, Jeremy Squires gives the impression that he is very sad, and it’s hard not to feel for the guy.
Much of Hymnal plays similarly to the album’s entry. The formula becomes predictable–slow folk guitar strums, whining violin notes, and defeated vocals. While this monotony could hurt other artists, the album’s straightforwardness and his intention to share his pains should be applauded. Other songwriters might struggle to construct an album with such focus. Few artists would be so willing to share themselves in the same way as Squires does during such a difficult time in his life. Vulnerability comes across quite cohesively on this record.
“Lament”, the following song, continues the glum, ruminating themes. He sings in a warm but noticeably damaged voice, “All these things, too many things / All my days are numbered now.” “Moon Coin” offers a slightly different audio quality. The guitar and voice feel like it was recorded in a candid DIY session as if he had just finished writing the song and set up a microphone in his room and recorded it. The song is about a friend he grew up with in elementary school who was brutally stabbed to death in the throat (when they were an adult). For Squires, the lyrics reflect upon life and death and loving and losing someone. Probably most importantly, the song is about letting go.
Many of the songs on Hymnal feel therapeutic and cathartic. It feels as if there are a lot of things weighing on Squires and that to process hard items–his feelings and understanding of the world–he needs to write music. It sounds like he has been through some tough times–Hymnal is his 11th studio full-length. The title track details the tragic end of his marriage in hopes of finding a resolution and being able to move on. The harmonies Brand adds to this track accentuate the sad end to a relationship where two souls at one point felt connected. In addition to healing his wounds, Squires hopes the song might also help others in similar situations move on.
Hymnal, an otherwise consistent album, gets bogged down in its uneven mixing. The idea to keep the instrumentation open brings home the susceptibility evident in the record, but there are stark contrasts between the mixing in some songs. The first few songs at the front of the album, compared to the middle tracks, and even the ending ones, have a more precise tone, while “Echo Roads” has a significant hall reverb effect that makes everything feel wider. For this particular song, given the title, it makes sense why he went this route. Since all the tracks share the same instrumentation, though, the discrepancies between some of the recordings are much more noticeable.
“Into the Fog” is accompanied by a music video filmed, directed, and edited by Squires, who has been a photographer for over 25 years. The video’s B-roll clips of clouds, trees, and highways capture the deeply reflective allure of the song. He mourns the end of his relationship with his wife: “I won’t see you in the morning. Although Squires claims the ending is bittersweet, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for two people who tried to make things work. For Hymnal, the songs feel more critical for Squires to release. Squires presumably owes much more to the process of healing by getting things off his chest. It’s an essential part of the healing process; we are just a convenient accessory. Yet, we are grateful for Squires to open himself up. Sometimes we all need that one good friend to listen to us vent. In that case, we are listening.