You may not know it, but a lot of great things come out of Redmond, Wash. Not only is it the location of headquarters for Microsoft and Nintendo of America, but it’s also the home of Mac & Jack’s Brewery, the hometown of comedian Nick Thune (and myself!), and has had a role in the blossoming careers of Super Deluxe and (supposedly) Tad Doyle, among many others.
I’m happy to once again sing the praises of the city that shaped me — on the heels of Dillon Warnek‘s latest, fan-funded release, A Stranger Here. Warnek’s 2010 album, Idaho, came across beautifully rooted in American folk tradition, but his new effort seems to benefit from a decidedly more modern bent. A Stranger Here is a Nashville-ian mix of rock and gospel, pitting Warnek as the Northwest’s answer to Tennessee songwriter (and Heartland native) Griffin House. Assisting to Warnek’s vocals, guitar, piano and bass contributions are Ethan McCracken providing electric and slide guitar, bass and backing vocals; Tim Mechling on keys, organ, bass and backing vocals; and Luke Knezevich rounding it out with drums and percussion.
The album opens sweetly with the title track, Warnek’s voice imbued with innocence atop plucky wisps of acoustic guitar. His lyrics point to a struggle with identity and place: “This isn’t who I am, but at the same time I really don’t give a damn. At the same time I’m trying as hard as I can.” What follows is “Maybe,” a song about seeking closure, led by hymnal piano, delving further with electric guitar and marching drum rolls.
One of the most delicious and understated components of Warnek’s full band offerings are the bass touches, especially the soft thuds from the bass drum that can be felt very well on A Stranger Here‘s anthemic third track, “Faded From Mine.” He gets his Bob Dylan on — paring his folk formula down to just vocals and acoustic guitar — for a few tunes. It’s most beautifully accomplished in “From the Mountain Comes the Dust,” where Warnek sings about the immaculate balance of nature: “From the mountain comes the dust, and from the rain comes the rust. For every baby born, there’s a ghost to mourn.”
A Stranger Here is a melancholy album, painting a portrait of a young man sorting through the complications of growing up and letting go, uncertainly coming to terms with reality. His songs feature recurring images of cars and trains, and the transition from night to day — common metaphors of the transforming self. From beneath it all bursts a glow of optimism at defying stagnation despite dissipating dreams, both in his lyrics and melody. The album’s closing tune, “Cold Car,” ends the whole journey on a figurative high note, with Warnek repeating, “Onward I will go,” atop a compendium of encouraging instruments. And you realize that whatever he’s searching for, he’ll find it, or perhaps already has.