Lyal Strickland's work exists at that rarified nexus where folk, country and roots rock intersect cooperatively without colliding into each other and diluting the total effort by pulling ineffectively in too many directions. On "Balanced on Barbed Wire," Strickland taps into a rich vein of contemporary songwriter storytelling, inspiring references to a fair number of his gifted peers while still establishing his own unique voice and sonic fingerprint.
Authenticity runs through Strickland's work like a genetic trait, even as "Balanced on Barbed Wire" exhibits considerably more studio sophistication than his previous lo-fi acoustic releases. The Missouri Ozarks native (and part time farmer) added players to his roster, including late Morrells/Skeletons guitarist Lou Whitney and members of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, but they serve the soundtrack appropriately, allowing the songs and Strickland's wearily hopeful delivery to take the lead.
Strickland's song structure is reminiscent of Sturgill Simpson's approach, sans the twangy psychedelic overlay, and his vocal rasp fits comfortably between Steve Forbert ("You'll See," "(What If We Could) Save the World") and Patterson Hood ("Not For Me"). When Strickland cranks up the volume, qualitatively and quantitatively, he lopes along with the insistence of Waylon Jennings ("Gettin' By"), but there are moments of plaintive reflection that land with the same heartbreaking weight as Freedy Johnston's best balladry ("Knocking Down Doors").
The best news in Strickland's sonic expansion on "Balanced on Barbed Wire" is that his highly personal lyrics about the plight of middle Americans with sparse savings and scuffed hearts remain perfectly intact; he's merely given them a bigger stage to exist within.