"Beauty and Ruin" from singer-songwriter David Starr was inspired by "Of What Was, Nothing Is Left," a novel written by his grandfather in 1972. It's a tragic story of family dysfunction, missteps and denial based in southwest Arkansas. In the book tragedy begets the next tragedy until only in the last two pages do we find redemption and hope.
The album was produced and arranged by John Oates, who is also one of several notable co-writers including Jim Lauderdale, Dana Cooper, Doug and Telisha Williams (Wild Ponies), Irene Kelley, Wood Newton and Shelley Rae Korntved. After working with Oates on his 2017 "The Head & Heart" EP, Starr collaborated with Oates by handing the book to several of their favorite songwriters asking them to write for a concept album based on the true story.
As such, Starr and these co-writers explore these flawed characters , giving Fred Starr's words new life. Naturally, it resonates as cinematic in scope, rife full of poetic passages like this from the title track written by Starr and Cooper - "This crooked road that I wound up on/Led me to you and now you're gone/Our sky of blue turned cold and gray/Beauty and ruin at the end of the day."
Given Oates' profile, some of Nashville's best like Dan Dugmore, Greg Morrow and Ian Fitchuk contribute to provide a rich musical backdrop complete with a healthy blend of electric and acoustic instruments, punctuated by pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle and cello. Many of the co-writers also add background vocals to Starr's clear, articulate vocals with just a hint of twang. "Road to Jubilee," co-written with Oates and Lauderdale, is in a solid traditional country vein propelled by swelling guitars and B3 organ as Starr sings from the perspective of the main narrator in prison - "Now it's dark and cold and lonely inside these prison walls/And I'm not to blame for a dead man's crime but still I took the fall/I've lost so many hours that I know I'll never find/Now I count the days 'til I walk away and leave this all behind."
These are storytelling songs at their best, rendered by some of the best writers and musicians in the genre. Much of it is dark but that usually makes for better songs, certainly holding true here.