Brad Heller’s latest release is titled The Sentence. It’s the follow-up to his previous breakthrough record American Burden. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.
Brad Heller is a singer-songwriter and musician. According to his website, he is “ a Wilmington, North Carolina transplant.” He sometimes works as a solo acoustic artist and sometimes performs with a backing band called The Fustics.
Brad Heller’s signature sound is a myriad of music genres, including Americana, country, indie-folk, roots music, and rock and roll.
The Sentence is the most recent example of Heller’s ability to acknowledge his various inspirations while staying true to his own individualistic creative efforts. On this album, Heller leads the way on acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals. He is backed by an assortment of other artists including Ted Krenshaw (bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and backing vocals), Ronn Pifer (drums and percussion), Zeke Roland (electric guitar), and Phil Bevilacqua (organ). Special guests include Caleb Wood (electric guitar) and Adrian Varnam (backing vocals).
Track by track
The 12-track album opens on “Eternal Season.” It’s got a great backbeat and is ready for the radio or even your next road trip.
The second selection is “Thousand Days.” Reminiscent of Roy Orbison, this song includes a contemporary commentary on loss. If Orbison even used the F-word he might have written this himself. Here he sings about his reasons for not having prayed for a few years.
The titular song, “The Sentence,” has a Spanish waltz feel to it. The tune is a slightly quieter number that is soundtrack material. Indeed, it would work well during one of those reflective moments so prevalent in rom-coms.
“Gone” is perhaps overlooked due to its position on the track list. Still, it stands out because it appears to be a country-tinged track with its own sincere “je ne sais quoi” in place of the usual booze and crazy babe bashing boys’ pick-ups.
“The Runner” is the simple story of a failed expatriate who now resides south of the border. He gets paid to sneak people into the US illegally. Yes, the emotional, empathic angle was previously presented by Woody Guthrie. Heller, who made it clear in an earlier interview that this song has nothing to do with the current administration, works to bring his tale into the 21st century.
Also included here is “The Greatest Crime” which is yet another example of Heller’s songwriting capabilities.
“Bound for Nothing” is a somehow sad and nigh spooky tip of the hat to early 1980s Bruce Springsteen.
“Time’s the Enemy” is the first of two cuts Heller composed for his late father.
The poignant “Chasing Wolves” is the second and final tribute to Heller’s late father.
The folk-like “Eucharist” is a troubled track that appears to focus on the dangers of addiction and losing one’s faith.
Not to be confused with Neil Young’s 1978 titular track, this “Comes A Time” is an original audio offering out of Appalachia. Or, as it says in his press release, this is the place where Heller “hits the hillbilly button.”
The album endnote is “The Garden Tree.” This early fan fave is an apt closing cut as Heller sings of better days and perhaps ponders the afterlife. It is one final example of what Heller and company can do.
Overall, the album is a collection of original material steeped in both personal and social commentary. Here he covers several themes including addiction, alienation of self, illegal immigration, and loss of faith and loved ones. So check out Brad Heller’s The Sentence because it would be “The Greatest Crime” not to.