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Garrett Heath: The Losing End


Garrett Heath – The Losing End

Self-released 22 April 2022

Garrett Heath’s previous album, Kingdom Come, effortlessly earned a place among my top 10 albums of  2021, and the follow-up, The Losing End, presents a convincing case for making that a double.

Like its predecessor, while some numbers are stripped back affairs, focusing on just his voice and guitar, here the instrumentation also takes in electric guitar and drums. Where that was introspective, this turns its eye on the economically distressed small-town Rust Belt America where he grew up and lives and the people he knows.

It starts its journey on West Front St., the narrator recalling how “My daddy worked the refinery/Lost his hand in ’95/Explosion cost four men their lives/He filled his days with too much drink/And his records from the ‘70s/Till one day Mama left that note/Said she met a man in Ohio/Daddy lost his job and lost his wife”, the tragedy furthered by suicide as a way out of hell (“Got a call that woke me up last night/Said they found his body by the riverside/Daddy’s life has made it clear to me/Only death can set the living free”).

One of the album’s fuller sounds, with drums and harmonica, the slow swaying Live for the Moment, is summed up by the title as he advises, “Don’t think of tomorrow, forget yesterday” because “Time is a reaper, harvesting lives/It’s all we can do to survive/Live for the moment or you’ll be drifting away”.

It’s followed by the sole cover, organ adding to the similarly musically arranged reading of John Hartford’s In Tall Buildings, a rueful slow-walking lament about having to leave your rural life behind, bidding farewell to the sunshine to go and work in the soulless city in order to survive. Plugging in the guitar, the title track unfolds as a series of downcast short vignettes focusing on a perspective of daily life in rural America, each one sketching the impact of the new Depression, from the death of the mon and pop high street stores in the face of franchise malls to the local college sports team always destined to lose out to better-funded private schools as the narrator contemplates what the future holds for his new baby girl and how “in a land where all are equal, and mostly free/She’s still coming on the losing end”.

Opening with harmonica, Darker Still addresses the secrets we hide from others and ourselves in order to get by (“I’ll wear these chains and/Pretend that freedom’s found me”), but how the weight can only be lifted if we open our souls and turn to the support of friends, family and community (“what are friends if we can’t/Share our heavy burdens/And all the things that drag us down”).

The pervasiveness of America’s socioeconomic malaise and the recurring cycle underpins The Band-like colours of Same Old Story (“it’s the same old story, a thousand times told/And it’s the same old lessons, I already know/And it’s the same old echoes, from many years ago”), where the oppressiveness of life blinds you to the beauty that is out there until you become just  “An empty smile and these worn out jeans/A broken heart, and these tattered dreams”.

Backed by piano, there’s a shard of hope shining through on Morning Light, warmed by love (“I’ll give it all dear, when all seems lost/Yeah I would die here, in the morning light/Just to see you alive/Sure as the sun will rise in the morning time/It’s love that binds your heart and mine”) and lit by a refusal to be broken down (“We’ll build our home here, we’ll stand and fight/Maybe find some peace here, in the morning light”).

He switches to storytelling mode for the twangier guitar slow march of Camaro, essentially a reversal of the In Tall Buildings arc as the narrator, James Freed, tells how he lost his job as a New York banker,  turned to drink and had his home repossessed when the market crashed, so he drove his car back home to PA “Where I live with my family/To this very day/Got a job at the Walmart/Twenty miles away/I drive that Camero/To work every day”.

It ends with Vanity, a harmonica led gospel-tinted slow swaying return to the carpe diem sentiment expressed earlier (“Life is but a vapor/Just a whisper in the wind/Well everything is vanity/My conscience seems to know”) that draws on his religious foundations to sing how only by being humble and acknowledging where we stand in the grand scheme of things can we find peace: “The truth is I am nothing/But the truth will set me free”. Perhaps next time around, he might consider introducing a couple of more uptempo tracks and maybe a further glimmer of light, but for now, The Losing End sounds very much like a winner.

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