“The world is on my heart again.”
Will Courtney taps into the grand ennui of modern existence, the general malaise broken up by a smile, a good tune that recalls the “thrilling way guitarists play a riff,” or simply someone who’s got your back and is willing to try when so many others just sit it out in quiet defeat.
Planning Escapes is a tableau of everyday ache and bittersweet yearning, where the beauty and pain of small things – kind moments and cruel cuts – is illuminated and the nuances of interaction and memory are sifted with careful hands and humanity. There’s a healthy measure of 70s singer-songwriter mojo to Planning Escapes, which resonates with Jackson Browne and Gene Clark, as well as kindred contemporary Neal Casal. Wrapped in weathered corduroy and pedal steel accents, the album isn’t a throwback so much as a full-bodied descendent, Courtney the kind of guy they’d have welcomed in Topanga Canyon and Big Sur back in the day.
However, Planning Escapes has a feisty side that brings to mind Big Star’s Chris Bell and his posthumously released masterpiece I Am The Cosmos. When Courtney plugs in, there’s a righteous crackle. If they allowed naughty words on the radio “The Days When Bands Could Make You Cry” would be a hit, a bite-the-hand-that-feeds corker in the vein of Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio.” In electric mode, the album brings to mind Neil Young in his Gold Rush days with a similar judicious use of power and volume amidst the record’s steady flow. “It’s In Your Mind” could be a chapter from a Gnostic gospel to the Grateful Dead Songbook, a weary-but-still-standing sing-a-long that would’ve suited Garcia well.
At the center of the varying moods is Courtney’s emotion-drenched singing. While Will looks like Grizzly Adams’ cousin, when he sings it stirs one like Elliott Smith, all the feels surfacing fast and frequently as familiar words hum with fresh impact upon his tongue. His voice is saturated with worldly wisdom, each verse infused by too many hours thinking about all the things he’s seen and heard, the callousness and disregard many exhibit getting at him but also fueling a resilient belief in the goodness of the few and the greater power love and connection possesses, this idea reaching its pinnacle on Planning Escapes’s “The Pain,” an homage to late Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, and the subsequent track “The Killer.”
At a base level, Courtney conveys compassion for others that doesn’t ignore the evil that men do. This makes his catalog of joys hiding in jagged places all the more believably meaningful. When he reaches out his hand he does so knowingly, willingly, which stirs one to rise from one’s own brokenness and do some reaching out of one’s own.
Pick up the album HERE, and spring the extra few bucks for the deluxe edition to get the entire album performed live-in-studio by Will Courtney on acoustic guitar and pedal steel champ Ricky Ray Jackson. It’s lovely and laid bare in the best of ways, adding a pleasing perspective to the layered studio version.