Album Review: Gill Landry – Love Rides A Dark Horse

On his second solo album, Gill Landry bares his soul through a deeply personal, elegant collection of tracks that functions like a song cycle of heartbreak. The soft-sung Nashville balladeer has introduced his latest record with an emotional, candid essay on his website, detailing the events of the past two years that led him to this moment on his artistic journey, including his departure from Old Crow Medicine Show after winning two Grammy’s, and the end of a relationship with a woman to whom he was engaged. This moving insight contextualises the album in a uniquely poignant manner.

He writes: “I swore to myself I wasn’t writing another goddamned broken-hearted love song, but then my lover took flight and I found myself alone, worn out, disillusioned, and heartbroken in a way I hadn’t known before.”

Love Rides A Dark Horse is undeniably a break-up album, but it’s much more than that as well. Heartbreak and disillusionment are the subject, but Landry’s a natural storyteller, and in his hands these subjects are thoroughly excavated, through the lens of his own heartbreak, so that every side of the stories he spins are as universal as they are personal. In this way, a painfully beautiful, personal album becomes a powerfully relatable musing on the universal nature of heartbreak. As Landry writes: “I try to purge hard times in song and can only hope that through sharing these glimpses of hard to pin down emotions, others may feel less alone.”

Starting with the bluesy, driving, country ballad Denver Girls, Landry uses his no-frills baritone, deeply affecting in its simplicity, lived-in and loved like well-worn leather, to infuse lines like “with those eyes like faded jewels, and that crooked country smile…that tender girl, she dragged me down a rough and ragged mile” with a quality of timeless reflection. Throughout the album, he takes the familiar and makes it seem like a discovery. On Bird In A Cage: “The bars in town become a prison, and your dreams are the same.” And again on the hooky single Berlin: “Sometimes the darkest moments can be treasures.” In one of the best choruses on the album (and one of the better I’ve heard lately), Landry examines all the messy sides of a breakup – how it’s usually everyone’s fault and no one’s fault, just the tides turning in the same painful way they always do.

The shining star of the album is Scripted Love, a track that in his introduction he characterised as being the emotional thesis of the album: “The songs reveal characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed.” Especially Cohen-esque, the arrangement is sparse, hollow and perfect. It’s a meditation on the way contemporary relationships are often tragically hinged on the idea of love itself, the way we try to force each other into pre-assigned romantic roles, commoditizing each other and love itself. With the addition of a truly chilling trumpet solo in the bridge, supported by echoing background vocals, it’s a masterpiece of a song, the final romantic trope that Landry turns upside down to painfully relatable effect.

The album wraps up with two simple, utterly authentic songs, The Woman You Are – a sentimental yet honest expression of the true, unconditional love that serves as an antidote to the put-on idealism of Scripted Love, featuring this perfect line: “The woman I love is the woman you are” – and The Real Deal Died, a mostly-instrumental elegy for a man who has lost everything except his heart, that sends the album out on a mythical note, with a faint echo of guitar reverb at the end, a symbolic reminder that the cycle of the human condition is ever-renewing, and ever-unifying

Phoebe Silva