Thursday, November 17, 2011

Justin Utley - Nothing This Real

Since I found out this CD was going to be released, I have been eagerly awaiting it.  I fell in love with Justin's story and his music and his message and became a huge fan with his first album, "Runaway".  With Justin, there is something about him that is so familiar.  It's not that he's the "boy next door" per say but he seems to be the conglomeration of all the boys next door all across the country.  He's the guy that is always doing a solid for someone else and mending fences when no one else is willing to.  He's the guy that always has a smile for you even though he's probably not having the best of day because he doesn't want to burden you will his issues.  The best art is born from tragedy and life experience and it makes me feel for Justin because he is someone that has had more experience that most people in the world will have in a small portion of their lives and this album seems to be born from those experiences in his life.

The tracks on this album are stained with some tears, colored with a bit of lonesome and some have just plain seen better days while others remain re-markedly optimistic.  These songs are human in their nature because no matter what you throw at them, they have all had to stand back up again and keep going.  Even when you have to be reminded of all the "Times", the good times, the not so good times and everything in between - these songs have some life on them that you aren't going to get with an artist that doesn't have some life on him.  So Justin has been through it in the six years since the release of "Runaway" and he's come out the other side a stronger, more resilient man.

It seems like Justin took everything that he had in him and created these gigantic songs.  Each song is staggeringly over four minutes, with Great Escape coming in at almost 6 minutes.  In today's market of easy bite size songs, these are just so big and actually unheard of.  They are anthemic, they are theatrical and they have more than just legs to stand on.  The have weight and meaning and in most cases...each song casts it's own shadow.  It is a solid object that doesn't ask for your time, they demand it.  From track to track, each song has a life of its own and they have all been produced expertly.  From Harmonicas to Fiddles and Violins and Organs to a simple piano arrangement, each song is filled to the brim with the perfect amount of instrumentation that helps breathe life into it.

His patented blend of Alt-Rock, Country, Pop and a little bit of everything else he can pack into a track come across seamlessly and without effort.  His vocals perfectly accentuate the carefully crafted lyrics and he just has a way of saying exactly what he means in a manner that transcends boundaries.  He's honest and that comes through in his words and vocals.  He transitions between genres with a fluidity of someone that has been in the industry for years.

Track Listing:

Nothing This Real
The title track of the album has this subtle power built into it and pulls you through a journey of awakening.  It seems like someone that has been trapped in a self-imposed world of subjugation to the media or an addiction or a lover and it's time they've made the decision to strike out of this prison and make it on their own.  But what happens if their new reality doesn't match what they've been living with.  Was it the right decision?  The anxiety of standing on your own two feet can be deafening at times but you know you have to make the right decision and just try.

Great Escape
If one song could encompass everything a person feels when they have made their mind up to have their own rite of passage or coming of age story, this song is the one.  The theme of taking that first step continues from the first track but with Great Escape it takes you out of the comfort zone of home.  You've made the decision to go, you've said your goodbyes, the car is loaded up and you're ready to go.  Trepidation sets in but you know it's the right thing to do.  Whether it's across the country or into a new relationship, it's generally not the destination that's important but the trip.  Your looking back on what you've left behind and it's going to be ok, you're going to stand on  your own two feet or you’re going to fall flat on your face but you're doing it on your own terms.

State Of Loneliness
Even when you're in a room full of people it's amazing how lonely you can feel when everything comes unraveling around you.  You've done everything you can in your power to keep things alive but no matter what you do, it's not enough.  It's all just slipping through your fingers and you can't stop it and all you can do it watch it come crashing down around you.

This Time
Even the worst of times are important because they put the good times in perspective.  Take every moment and do everything you can in your power to make it important because you're never going to get it back to do again.  This song is superbly optimistic and makes you realize that sometimes when things seem horrible, they aren't because you've had the opportunity to learn and grow from the other experiences.

Guided Back To You
Every single person has been in this situation.  You know it by heart and it's honest and it hurts and it put you through hell.  Life has put you through it and you don't really know which was is up but with a hope and some luck, things will work out the way they should.  You don't know which way to turn but you have the smallest glimmer of faith.  This is probably one of my most favorite tracks on the album because through all my pessimism, I still believe in just a bit of "magic".

Moment For Me
Harmonicas are not nearly used enough in music.  I think it’s one instrument that has a sound that can be so indicative of a feeling you immediately know where it's going.  It can either be happy and carefree or in this case it just sounds lonesome. There is so much apprehension built in this song it's almost palpable.  You're laying it all one the line and you've held your breath waiting on the answer.  Did I make a mistake? Did I say too much?  Everything that can pass in a hairs breath is going through your mind.  I'll take the consequence, no matter what it is but the silence is killing me.  This song is a slow waltz.  It's a lullaby.  It's heart wrenching because of the uncertainty.  It's everything in one moment and it hurts and it's terrifying all at the same time but you will get through it.  I am 150% in love with this song.

It Is What It Is
Sometimes things are so far out of your control, you just have to throw your hands up and say, "Whatever".  I can't make you change.  I can't make up your mind for you so it's just...whatever.  I tried everything I could and I fought the good fight but I just can't do it anymore.  It's all been laid out for you to see and regardless of what decision you make, I've made my peace with it. The fiddle on this song is perfect and the song has just a carefree vibe because sometimes, It is What It is.

Behind My Eyes
You try to be a pillar of strength but sometimes all you can do is put on a brave face and soldier on.  It may not be the best decision but it's for the best.  You're on your own and it's terrifying and it's hard but it's what you have to do.  You've kept his phone number, just in case but you don't want to betray yourself and have to use it.  Another song that's so heartfelt and honest because this is an emotional state that everyone, whether or not they want to admit it has been put in.

In July
You've made a stand. You've done everything you're supposed to do. But not matter how hard you fight, you're still out in the cold.  It doesn't make sense and it's not fair.  Justin and a piano don’t get much better than this. There are so many emotions the song evokes and it's hard and it's desolate but through the struggle and the fight and all the garbage you've had to go through but you will make it through because it can't suck every day.  There are days when it is better.  You just have to fight for them and before you know it, it's August and July seems so long ago.

Stand For Something (Live)
His award winning single recorded live at Utah Pride on June 5th.  That's right this is a live recording.  As you can hear, his voice is clean and without modification.  That's the sign of a true artist to me.  If you can see them live and they sound like they do on the album, they are an amazing artist.  No auto-tune, no digital clean up. Just Justin.  This song is so important because it is a message of hope and courage and as long as you stand up for your beliefs, things will work out in the end.

I know I have been super wordy with this review but I felt this album deserved it.  I am a huge fan of Justin because he is an amazing artist.  I love listening to him and will continue to support him in any way I can.  I've said it before...if you're a fan of American music, quality American music; please support this artist because there aren't many out there that support us the way he does.  He travels tirelessly from event to event promoting his message of strength and hope and I think the world needs a bit more of that.


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