When you entitle your release "Songs," you'd better make sure its chock-full of really good ones. Fortunately for John Fullbright, the Oklahoma singer lives up to the billing in a set that veers folk.
Fullbright seems to be fighting the impulse of singer/songwriters to go negative about life in the lead-off "Happy" where he sings "Tell me what's so bad about happy" with a slight scuff to his voice. Of course, he has reason to wonder - his compadre seems to have called it quits. But, ultimately, there's a lot of sadness there and in most of his songs.
A few songs later in "Keeping Hope Alive," there's no escaping that Fullbright is struggling. Closing with the words "the biggest fight that reigns/is called keeping hope alive." But it only seems to get worse with lines like "I didn't know I was in love with you/Until you were gone."
There's a honesty to Fullbright's delivery, which is typically kept very spare musically. On "She Knows," it's just Fullbright on piano accompanied by an under-heard bass. In fact, the simple structure is no accident. On "Write a Song," it's just Fullbright on his electric, and Fullbright is solo on piano on "Very First Time."
That, of course, means its up to Fullbright's lyrics and vocal delivery to make the songs resonate.
After mining the slower, mournful turf, Fullbright makes a quick change with "Never Cry Again" due to much more instrumentation including his electric guitar and brighter sounding vocals. His harmonica on "Going Home" makes it sound upbeat, even if the words ("I met love, Love met me/And we agreed to disagree/the rain stopped falling/I'm going home") belie that.
Life and love ain't easy, but with "Songs," Fullbright makes you think otherwise. Good songs will have that effect.