I’m quite taken with what Holt Vaughn has accomplished with his latest album These Songs, Vol. 2. Vaughn recruited a number of guest musicians to help him nail these songs down, but there are few collections in this vein, singer/songwriter meets Americana meets Christian Contemporary, where the songs burn with such obvious individualism.
His songwriting reminds of Bob Dylan in a specific way. Dylan, following the end of his “overt” Christian period 1979-1981/82, didn’t abandon Christianity or spirituality but, instead, found a way to incorporate it into his lyrics without outright proselytizing. Listen to his lyrics for the album’s first song “Got to Pray (Satan He Don’t Rest)” and, if you can recall several hundred blues lyrics dating back to the 1920’s, it’s clear Vaughn is drawing from a deep songwriting tradition and putting it to his own uses. It’s also, however, equally apparent that he’s found a way to write about his beliefs in a way that otherwise secular listeners won’t reject.
This continues during the second song “Forewarned”. He abandons the electric blues of the album opener in favor of a band sound centered on acoustic guitar. Vicky Hampton’s backing vocals reinforces Vaughn’s voice well, but his singing is more than enough to hold listener’s attention. The subtle dramatic touches his phrasing brings to this song makes it among the album’s best. These Songs, Vol. 2 has its first instrumental with the track “Muddlety”. Phil Keaggy, longtime guitarist for 70’s legends Glass Harp, teams with Vaughn on acoustic guitar and the two deliver an expressive and melodic showcase.
“Creed Not Chaos” is a performance from Vaughn’s core lineup for the album of him on vocals and guitar, Gary Lunn on bass, Vicky Hampton’s backing vocals, and drummer Tony Morra. It’s one of the most thoughtful examples of songwriting on this release and reflective of Vaughn’s beliefs without ever singing from atop an unnecessary soapbox. The arrangement is especially intelligent, and the overall song sounds deceptively simple.
“Good Company” is another highpoint. Vaughn and Will McFarlane combine their considerable vocal talents on this song without ever overshadowing the other; instead, the chemistry they establish aids them elevating this already fine song several notches closer to sublime. Thoughtful songwriting continues dominating this portion of the release as “Life’s River” takes a potentially heavy-handed or cliched image and transforms it into a moving lyrical and musical experience. The blazing rocker “Suzie Jones” is the album’s shortest tune and one of its most enjoyable. Don’t think, however, that Vaughn leaves his brains behind for this one, however – it’s just as bright and involving as any of its predecessors.
The moody beauty of “Home (Nursing Home Blues)” simmers at a slow burn and occasionally boils over. The slide guitar helps accentuate that slow burn quality and Vaughn caps it with well-placed incendiary guitar work, but it’s the backing vocals that leap out for me. The Fabulous Gayle Sisters contribute mightily to the final results and Brian Moore’s mix does an excellent job incorporating them into the song’s arrangement. It’s usually a cliché, but there’s something for everyone on Holt Vaughn’s These Songs, Vol. 2 and it’s full of life and wisdom alike.