The road traveled by an independent artist is often a weary one riddled by innumerable challenges, missteps, and second guessing. Distilling perspective and personal experience into harmony and rhythm is only half the battle. Communicating the emotional truth in the songwriting through the recording process is the other. Clearly having walked this road many times before, Scott Low returns with a release that is a folksy, stripped down, and unabashedly political stroll through the tumultuous dreams of contemporary American life. Drawing inspiration from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Low has crafted a record that takes a wider view of life in these times of distress while still managing to weave a great deal of personal lyricism throughout.
The album opens with the title track, a modestly optimistic tune that serves as an introduction to the themes on the record. Low sings softly, crafting a shaky yet uplifiting fable of the future as it could be if we worked together to build it. The instrumentation is sparse but still quite lush, blending Low’s understated acoustic strumming with a soothing fiddle accompanyment and a short but impacful slide lead section. “Mayor Of This Town” follows, taking a peek into small town American life. Critical of the stagnation that comes from homogeny, Low muses about the possibilities of living in the present and for the future rather than living in the past. The lyrics slyly take aim at the overabundance of law enforcement in our society today and the support that it receives so vehemently from rural America.
“Pick ‘N Whistle” breaks the mood just a little with a sweetly earnest romantic adventure. Whether autobiographical or otherwise, Low really builds a smile into the listener with an energetic performance that is less of a love song and more of an acknowledgement of gratitude. The flip side to this exuberance is “The Night The Music Died” which serves gracefully as the heart of the record. This is a breakup song of sorts, sending up and calling out Low’s former place of residence in Athens, Georgia. Spacious and full of heartache, Low is both grateful for his experiences and glad to have moved on from that big little town. For one who has lived and played in Athens, or in any small town with a big music scene, this song is wonderfully cathartic.
“My Sweet Winnie” returns to more sentimentality. This song finds Low in awe of a true love, promising a good life of peace and harmony. Short and sweet, this is another standout on the record that makes great use of the sparse instrumentation. “Song of Our Family” changes the tone, once again expanding the scope of Low’s songcraft. Moody and as close as the record gets to a rock song, “Song of Our Family” is a bit difficult to grasp but keeps the record from nailing itself down thematically, offering something akin to a mythological recollection of the loss of a loved one.
Steering back into the political realm, “These Bones” is an upbeat number that examines the futility of two party system as it relates to the longevity of the American people. Clearly aimed at the developing oligarchy in the United States, Low encourages the focus on living a happy life and letting go of the dichotomy that drives a wedge between neighbors. The record closes with the impassioned “One Shot”. This number encourages the taking of chances, of becoming a bolder and better person by striving to live up to one’s capabilities. The fiddle on this track is powerful, weaving itself in and out of the song ethereally, adding a welcome intensity befitting the close of the album.
While perhaps not rising to the heights of his inspirations, Scott Low has crafted in Burning Tires, Smoking Gun a collection of songs whose authenticity is difficult to question. The instrumentation and production on the record is clean, although lacking in the fullness of some of Low’s past solo and collaborative efforts. Still, the concepts explored through the music give it a timeless quality that might not have been had there been a larger sound. For fans of more traditional country balladeering and those disheartened by the current state of the world, Burning Tires, Smoking Gun is sure to provide some tears, a few smiles, and just maybe a little hope.