It’s a tough enough job to make a song go viral on TikTok, but behind that desire for a song to launch you into the stratosphere must be another, smaller one: ‘let it be the right song’.
Since record sales began, many a musician has found themself taken back by the tune that ended up being their runaway hit and subsequently their anointed set closer for the rest of time.
When Bryan Martin’s song ‘Beauty in the Struggle’ went viral on TikTok it was a heartfelt look at the nature of struggle but it was, ultimately, the story of someone else’s. On new album Poets & Old Souls, it’s his own struggles he lays bare, as he strives less for the sweetness, and more for the cold, hard truth of it all.
In fact, he takes the chance here to rewrite that song completely from a new perspective on ‘He Knows The Struggle’, and the hard work and busted knuckles it takes to provide for a family. That’s what this album is about at its core: the art and the fallout of balancing his responsibilities and ambitions as a father and a musician respectively. “You can bet I know about a lonesome road / You can bet I know about a heavy load / They call it playing for a living but the truth is it isn’t as easy as writing a song / Tell my babies that I love ‘em but their daddy ain’t never coming home”, he sings on opener ‘Never Coming Home’.
Apart from songs like the gorgeous title track, featuring Frank Foster, which is as soft and contemplative as its title suggests, and ‘Another Honky Tonk’ – a classic look at the songwriter’s lot of the endless nights spent playing in smoky bars in pursuit of a dream – he’s careful to keep the theme of struggle more universal, avoiding alienating the listener with too much talk of the ‘three chords and the truth’ of it all.
Instead he gives a more relatable look at the pitfalls of everyday life, whether you’re a songwriter or an oil rigger, as Martin once was, (and perhaps one of the most relatable struggles of all on ‘We Ride’): “Rubbing two nickels just trying to make a dime, hard to make a living when the gas so high”.
At only nine tracks long, it’s surprising to see multiple versions of two tracks here, not because either are poor efforts, but because neither do quite enough to justify the space they take up in place of further originals. The acoustic version of ‘We Ride’, which has a ‘Wonderwall’ feel to it, adds interesting texture via its addition of harmonica, whilst this version of pre-release ‘Wolves Cry’ takes on a more sinister, outlaw feel, even if the fuller-throated vocal on the original is a better match for its lyrics.
Madeline Edwards coined the term ‘dreamy western’ on her recent release Crashlanded, the title track of which is a sonic sibling for Wolves Cry. Whilst some people might see a barren landscape as dreamy and otherworldly, here with Bryan you hear a strong songwriters’ showcase of an album written by someone with their feet distinctly in the earth.