Since the release of 2010's self-released LP You Just Relax Honey, Jonathan Warren and The Billy Goats have lived in the equivocal (ed.: indeterminate? indefinite?) realm where country, bluegrass, Americana and folk meet—the band's own management describes it as a "progressive psychobilly folk-grass outfit." Rather than veer into (and stay in) one genre, JW&TBG continued to deliver boundary-spanning songs through 2011's A Little Something Stronger Than Wine, 2013's On This Very Evening and hundreds of live performances. Bless My Soul, the band's newest release, follows in the footsteps of its predecessors: It's quintessential American folk, country and bluegrass, with some rock and even gospel sounds mixed in.
The heartache hymn "Quite Like You Lady" starts with slow melancholy guitar and organ followed by Warren pining "Whoa-oh/ ohh-oh/ nothin' can save me." "Concrete" (written by Billy Goat cellist David Sather-Smith) is an "On-The-Road-Again"-esque mandolin- and violin-filled boot stomper. Though guitar, organ and a slew of voices carry a heartfelt message of missing "Maleena," it's a sweet, simple tune with one of the best ever lines in a love song: "No matter what you think about/ you're on my mind."
The title track is the album standout with local musician Lindsey Hunt's haunting violin and backing vocals adding layers to the already eerie Gothic-folk tune as Warren speak-sings "And then she/ said to me/ boy why do you/ have to be/ so damn evil/ Bless my soul/ You make a young girl/ grow cold."
Though he's a terrific storyteller, Warren is not a great vocalist and, at times, an otherwise outstanding track is overshadowed by off-key singing. However, Bless My Soul is Warren's strongest work yet and never forgoes message for melody. Warren's writing skills are also evidenced by Umbrella Weather, a lovely 18-page chapbook of Warren's published and unpublished poetry released in conjunction with the Nov. 13 CD release.
Bless My Soul shows rather than search for a niche, Warren carved out his own and made himself at home.