Nashville artist W.B. Givens is an animate voice in the city’s buzzing Americana scene, weaving together the roots of country and bluegrass into the fresh and piercing craftsmanship of a young and ambitious songwriter.
His album, Locomotion, is a refreshing collection of tracks, carrying a raw display of visual metaphor inside the confines of a sound that harks to the Cumberland. Throughout all ten tracks, Givens remains humble in his emotional capitulation, never rising above the earnestness of the more frayed and forlorn moments in a young protagonist’s life.
Givens assumes no retrospective wisdom in his music, which, combined with a traditional, old-time sound, is precisely what makes him seem so wise. Rather than view the trajectory of song matter from a retroactive perspective, his lyrics attest to the present moment. The album reads as an elaboration on Dylan’s My Back Pages: “Well I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
“Oh My God” introduces the eleven-track collection, and sets the scene for a protagonist who is content to embrace the recklessness of passion, fury, and the rough thrusts of a fiery and uncertain life. “Get out of my way, if you don’t like sailing in hurricanes,” Givens sings, followed by a wailing “Oh My God,” an ode to biting ocean wind blown backwards. It sets us out on sea; it marks an artist’s reverence for those spontaneous life moments that happen to us, drown us in emotion, and settle into a song.
“Small Town Hymn” reigns in a more detached perspective, featuring acoustic picking and the slight twang of a fiddle line to back the lyrics of a keen observer. “The dust and I had settled like a small town hymn; I heard a freight train rolling, but I can’t say when,” Givens sings, adjusting the reference of time within the song to a thousand years of life inside a fallen town. It is the kind of song that is so metaphorically astute, it takes a few listens to fully understand the gravity of his ability to craft a picture of bluesy history within the emotional confines of a first-person narrator. As his metaphors grow, so crescendos the music, eventually giving way to a blues-rock guitar line that modernizes a dust-bowl story.
Givens masters this amalgam of fresh, modernized bluesy rock, bluegrass, and country as the album unfolds, calling on the traditional elements of each genres moments most appropriate for the cinematic landscape he has crafted. The work culminates in “Death In Her Afternoon,” a wailing, robust song that recalls the yearning scales features in the darkest histories of classic rock n’ roll, dipping down into the surrender of western outlaw sound. Givens uses the most apt and impassioned inflections to soar through lyrics, “Getting high on locomotion;” in these four words, he re-enters open sea and blistering wind that wins us over at the album’s beginning.
Catch Given’s next Nashville performance this Thursday, February 6, at the Green Room.