John Calvin Abney doesn’t stand still. He’d be the first to tell you that.
Abney originally made his name as a rowdy side man, playing guitar, pedal steel, keys and drums for a number of other acts. Thanks to years of extensive touring, both solo and as a gun-for-hire, Abney is possessed of some impressive instrumental stage chops.
But lately, it’s lyricism where he finds his inspiration, with encouragement from a host of Oklahoma songwriters in close proximity. His 2014 and 2015 releases, “Empty Candles” and “Better Luck,” found him abandoning his backseat post in favor of plaintive love songs and the misadventures of a handful of colorful invented characters. There are glimpses of technical prowess in this new chapter, to be sure—that is to say, to play is still the thing, but now with an intent focus on storytelling. “Vice Versa Suite” marked his second release of 2015, and placed John further into a realm of intropective songwriting and piano composition, penning four songs and two piano pieces with a series of musical motifs that dot the nocturnes of the album. His new release, “Far Cries and Close Calls,” recorded with musicians from Tulsa and Nashville, including Megan Palmer on harmony and fiddle, Paddy Ryan on drums, Aaron Boehler on bass, and Cody Clinton on electric guitar, is the culmination of John’s writing during the post-phase of “Better Luck,” reflecting his journeys that led him across states and seas, incorporating this last year of experience.
Few songwriters can weave so seamlessly in and out of genre that listeners are left wondering if they indeed heard what they thought they heard. And if they listen again, they’re likely to hear something else. Abney’s songs can be both frenetic and meditative, deeply affectionate and mired in loneliness, and, like Abney himself, both road-weary and ready for adventure.