|Jud Conway - Southern Bound
From Mason Dixon-hugging York County, Pennsylvania comes Southern Bound, the debut CD from singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jud Conway. Backed by accomplished and seasoned musicians, Conway delivers thirteen original songs both personal in substance yet accessible in style. Eclectic within the broad idiom of Americana, Southern Bound ranges from traditional country to folk-flavored ballad to full throttle rock and roll. This eclecticism keeps the listening experience fresh, and together with Conway’s ear for melody and hook, makes Southern Bound ripe for repeated enjoyment and selective sing-along familiarity.
Like many singer/songwriters, Conway explores the jagged emotional contours of love, devoting at least five songs to the themes of love-centered adult relationships. Whereas "Beautiful Lover" conveys the soaring intensity of still-young love, "Ties That Bind" and "Movin’ On" relate a painful recognition that the resilience of romance to endure repeated setbacks can be stretched beyond breaking. "South Savannah Rain," with its gliding steel guitar and catchy chorus, opens the CD by celebrating the transformational power of love. Jud Conway benefits from consistently strong backing musicianship throughout the CD, but thanks to skillful production by Dan Conway the musicianship never crowds out the song craft.
One need not be a love cynic to suggest that Conway’s writing is most memorable in his story songs. "Jaded" is a rhythmic, propulsive statement about mid-life regret and life’s many compromises, with no easy or convenient answers offered. The title track is Conway’s adaptation of the traditional murder ballad, set in the dusty rail towns of Texas, with a surprising twist. "Free Ride" is a busted-for-infidelity manifesto set to a rollicking, dobro-spiced, blues shuffle. "Mr. Corian" is a spare, Chapin-esque meditation on human mortality and the not inconsequential role of music in enriching a dying man’s last days. "Sleep Tight" offers a poignant child’s lullaby with a frankly-rendered profession of fatherly love: "I can’t help feeling I’m the richest man alive."
For this reviewer, the CD’s highest points are a barstool anthem with detailed, cinemascope imagery, "The King of Country Music;" and a cleverly-conceived, paradoxically up-tempo comment on family dysfunction, "Rag Doll." The former is a welcome reminder that not too long ago before the slickness and glitz, country music was an art form of earthy honesty and few pretensions. The latter is a thoroughly original observation of the manner in which extended families sometimes fail to support each other, or even to communicate in ways that are meaningful. Few, if any, are the previous songwriters who have tackled this difficult subject.
Perhaps Jud Conway need not be bound for the South, because in the gently rolling hills and verdant farm fields of York County, Pennsylvania, he has found ample regional inspiration for a thoughtful, well-crafted, and eminently listenable debut CD.