When a horse has a broken leg, it’s taken out back and shot. When a man has a broken soul, he writes through the night. Recorded during a year he spent working on a farm outside of Oxford, out of school and out of his mind, Knowlton Bourne’s Songs From Motel 43 has a genuine youthful enthusiasm that can’t be faked. It’s the sound of someone watching the world reveal itself for the first time, each new experience something to be savored, even the tragedy. It’s alive and awake, terrified and enraptured. Open up your mouth and say, "Awe."
Because he’s spent his whole life in Mississippi, 23-year-old Knowlton Bourne can’t help sounding southern: it’s there in the twang you hear every time he opens his mouth. But listen closely and you hear so much more than Americana. You can hear it in the hooks, you can hear it in the arrangements, and you can hear it in the popcraft that makes his songs stand out like knives. Songs From Motel 43 is a perfectly paced album that builds upon itself like a killer collection of short stories.
With one foot in the country and the other in the cosmos, it sounds at times like a delirious collaboration between the Pernice Brothers and the Verve. Call it Rural Hymns if you want to. Plenty of artists have written a song called “Hangin’ Around.” Very few have written one that sounds like it was influenced by Wire. And the Fennesz-like ambient second-half of “I Can’t Tell/Run” is beautiful enough to get lost for in days. Harmonicas are drenched in effects until they sound like synths, while synths are treated until they sound like cicadas.
It’s obvious Knowlton Bourne has heard a hell of a lot of music in his short life. Raised in a musical family - dad played Brian Eno records around the house, mom played classical piano every night, an older sibling played guitar - it was inevitable he’d make his own music one day. But it wasn’t inevitable it’d be this good. Bourne combines the energy of youth with the musical wisdom of someone twice his age. No wonder he appears destined for greatness.
In your early 20’s, everything is in motion, unstable and chaotic, always in flux. Songs From Motel 43 embraces that feeling. It evokes the magic of that first road trip, seeing the highway unfold in front of you, waking up in strange places. It’s America as seen through a fresh set of eyes. Everything in Knowlton Bourne’s lyrics might be looking down, but he delivers them as if he can’t wait to find out what happens next.
1. Summer Sun
2. Hangin' Around
3. I Can't Tell/Run
4. Done Movin' On
6. Motel 43
7. Gallup, New Mexico
8. The River (For Nels)
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CD: 4-panel digipak, shrink-wrapped