John Paul White has finally returned to music. After a two-year hiatus, the singer-songwriter released a solo album titled “Beulah” in August. The album comes as a bit of a surprise after the breakup of his previous music project, The Civil Wars. After quickly becoming one of the premiere folk acts in the industry, winning multiple Grammy awards for both of their LPs, “Barton Hollow” and “The Civil Wars,” John and his bandmate Joy Williams went their separate ways in August of 2014. Williams quickly released a solo album and began touring, but White remained basically silent and hidden from the spotlight, spending most of his time working on his record label, Single Lock Records. The silence came to an end in June, with White announcing a full length album and extensive tour.
“Beulah” is an album that sounds timeless. Some songs feature only JPW and his acoustic guitar, while others are full band compositions that sound larger than anything from The Civil Wars. John is a big fan of old southern folk music, and that comes through in songs like “I’ve Been Over This Before” with some help from The Secret Sisters. Closing track, “I’ll Get Even” is reminiscent of later tunes from his previous band, while “The Once and Future Queen” balances darkness with an irresistible hook.
With no female vocals to lift songs or offer the always-loved back and forth of a conversation, John is on his own to embrace the straightforward weight he excels at. The beautiful album cover can be a bit misleading, with a blue sky and bright colors. “Beulah” feels heavy, like a Sunday night spent alone with a touch of heartbreak. These ten songs show JPW doing what he does best, writing folky, thoughtful, and dark pop music.
While lead single, “What’s So” and band-heavy “The Martyr” are obvious choices to draw a listener in, the standout track is “Hope I Die.” Starting with a palm-muted chords, it sounds like a run of the mill JPW song, but after a brief intro, the drums kick in with a quick and sharp beat, driving a muted guitar riff that could be at home with any groovy pop song on the radio. White nearly whispers in the verse to keep the tight and cool music driving before the beat slows and opens up for a big and beautiful chorus. Just before the four-minute mark, the wide open track of strummed guitar chords and strings comes to an immediate halt. This song is JPW at his best.
John Paul White wrote many songs for popular country artists before The Civil Wars took off. The man knows how to write a hook, and the addition of the very personal lyrics makes Beulah immediately listenable while also being an album that rewards you for coming back again and again with deep lyrics and slick one-liners that you may not catch the first few listens. John is currently on tour, and will be a part of Mountain Stage on Sunday November 20th.