Artist: Korby Lenker
Album: Thousand Springs
Label: Soundly Music
Release Date: 7/14/2017
This a unique project in that none of these tunes were recorded in a studio. Instead, forests, backyards, a bookstore, and even a mortuary served as studios for East-Nashville based Korby Lenker, who traveled to his home state of Idaho to begin recording this album. Eventually, armed with a tent, his guitar, and some recording gear, he found more than a dozen locales to capture his vocal and guitar parts. Included in this itinerary were a cabin north of Sun Valley and the edge of the Snake River Canyon. But, that was just the first part of his journey.
Lenker then traversed the country to collect vocal and instrumental contributions from a host of folk musicians, nearly 30 of them. Among them are Nora Jane Struthers, Anthony Da Costa, Carrie Elkin, Amy Speace, Molly Tuttle, Kai Welch, Angel Snow, Becky Warren, Caroline Spence, and Chris “Critter” Eldridge of the Punch Brothers. These collaborations took place in Madison, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, and Nashville. This is partially due to Lenker’s loss of his voice for nearly two months while in the process of recording. He cannot pinpoint why this happened other than to point to the depression he was feeling over his then-girlfriend’s decision to abort their child, captured in the closing tune, “Wherever You Are.” He wrote the song when his voice was gone and subsequently visited the Vanderbilt Voice Center to begin physical therapy. He then recorded the song solo in one take. It’s one of five he wrote alone, the other seven being collaborations with different writers, three of whom appear on the album.
Despite the heavy nature of the preceding, the music is mostly light-hearted but shifts through a range of moods. “Mermaids” and “Uh-oh” could appeal to kids. “Book Nerd” is playful and autobiographical. Note that Lenker is an author, having published his collection of short stories, Medium Hero, in December 2015. Many of his tunes are rather spare like the opener, “Northern Lights,” which uses vivid imagery to accent lost love. His voice often goes to a whisper as in “Nothing Really Matters,” which has strong rhythm, propelled by Jon Reischman’s sparkling mandolin. This and “Father to the Man” are reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland groove. “Last Man Standing,” perhaps the most rocking song of the album, is about Chief Sitting Bull. Parts of it were recorded at Standing Rock, near Sitting Bull’s grave, a month before the Dakota-Access Pipeline protests began. Another highlight is the tune “Late Bloomers,” a paean to optimism.
Lenker has a creative, courageous approach, which at times appears simple until the listener realizes there is both real substance in the lyrics, lush harmonies, and many different backing instrumental configurations. One listen just doesn’t do it justice.