Sometimes songs capture in a snapshot what ends up being a universal truth. John Prine certainly had a knack for it, and a lot of Woody Guthrie’s material is relevant 60 or 70 years later. Rod Abernethy bottled a bit of that with the title track from his latest record, Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore. Written prior to the pandemic or the latest elections, the North Carolina native put words to the angst that was already swirling around us. He laid that foreboding over an instrumental track that pulls you in deeply, somehow without overshadowing the lyrics.
When Tobacco Was King, a co-write with Susan Cattaneo, uses acoustic and electric guitar interplay to set off the story of corporate greed and obfuscation. Get In the Car combines lo-fi guitar and harmonica to give a retro sound to a youthful remembrance of a joy ride with his brother. The title track uses instruments to flavor the anger of the song, while Abernethy’s voice provides the sadness. My Father Was A Quiet Man lets on that it’s going to be a melancholy tale, but as you listen to the lyrics you realize that’s just a facade for the real kindness and power that was the core of his dad.
Abernethy is a music professor at the University of North Carolina and uses his deep knowledge of the subject to let some of his guitar heroes shine through while keeping his own style. The Dylan-penned Oxford Town gets a fast, country blues treatment that brought to mind Tommy Emmanuel. It’s Always Something gets a Lindsay Buckingham style picking in a song that exposes another of those universal truths about blame; “it was something I did or didn’t do”. Birds In the Chimney and Whiskey And Pie made me realize I need to go back and listen to a bunch of Leo Kottke again.
Every couple of years it seems like I come across a record that’s filled with all kinds of little audio treasures. Sweet little instrumental licks, well told stories, an admirable turn of lyrical phrase, subtle references to previous artists or songs–something new pops up every time I hear the album. Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore is the latest one of those to find me.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.