Written By Cory Frye – Man, I tell ya: Last Friday I staggered home feeling like a whipped mongrel. My eyes were heavier than six Boris albums, Charlie Brown could’ve pitched a no-hitter atop my posture and my mind was stuffed with enough grim weariness to nurture a planet of Eeyores.
That is, until I found my copy of Casey Hurt’s “Mended Souls.” It’s been my go-to these last couple of weeks as I’ve watched doldrums devour winter’s last scraps and drown the valley in dolorous torrents. Even from Los Angeles, the city he now calls home, the former Corvallis resident’s rustic holler, sweetened with welcoming mesquite, enveloped my living room — I freed him from my ear buds; you gotta let him breathe — and eased me into serenity.
“I know the journey’s long,” Hurt sings on opening track “I’ll Be Near,” “but each distance deserves a song / and this song deserves a band.” Check and check, amen: These 11 new cuts are essayed by a crack unit of solid players. Patrick Cahill’s light, sunny Rhodes strolls carefree through “I’ll Be Near,” then chugs along a bump ’n’ grind swagger on “When We Touch.” It’s a longing Hurt feels to his fingertips (“Why don’t we just draw the shades,” he suggests, “and take a little time to misbehave?”), his voice lifting “sweet” to a sanctified high.
Yet Hurt’s not a man of wanton desires; his album is dedicated to “all the women in my life,” and his every proposal’s delivered from a place of affection and concern. Warmed by Sebastian Leger’s trumpet, “I Don’t Need That” is a self-empowerment tutorial: “Intoxicated by his candlelight / a sweet-nothing serenade seems to feel so right / But promises he whispers in your ear / won’t mean a thing to him when he disappears.” The trumpet returns on “Sing to You” for a different purpose: to woo-pitch what we can assume is romantic-interlude sincerity.
Hurt is accompanied on “Higher” by singer Evan Roman; her voice lifts his through a joyous pop soundscape as vast as a metropolitan skyline. “Babylon” finds him dabbling in hip-hop with Jon Beavers and Ian Merrigan of 6Brooks. The duo’s flow melds nicely with the concept of the Biblical city and its mixture of tongues (genres).
But it’s the simplest, most intimate songs that prove the most affecting. A mandolin shivers beneath a bare acoustic lead as Hurt admits to contentment with “doing nothing / as long as nothing, that nothing is with you” (“Doing Nothing”). “Sunday Mornings” is a spare little jaunt for those precious moments in bed before the rest of the world has risen, when it seems as if you and your beloved are truly a universe of two.
It’s what exists beyond this universe that occupies Hurt on the final track, the title track, a powerful consideration of a bond everlasting. The spectral wingspan of Mike McGraw’s lap steel guitar carries the singer’s words deep into the heavens. I’m not a religious man by any means, but I take some comfort in the notion of an eternity with the ones we’ve loved in life, free of pain, our spirits uplifted, renewed and rendered whole.
As the gloom of Friday dissipated and the light returned at last, I sat in quiet wonder that such joyful, healing music could come from a guy named Hurt.