There’s an old Buddhist saying, “No mud, no lotus,” which refers to the idea that bad things are necessary in order to make the good things. Folk musicmaker John Craigie has distilled that wisdom into a new studio album, No Rain, No Rose, the title of which pays tribute to his adopted hometown and the City of Roses itself, Portland, Oregon.
No Rain, No Rose represents a shift in Craigie’s life typical solo acoustic style, as well as a transition in his life. The time-tested troubadour pushed the boundaries of his sound, using the environment provided in the living room of the old Victorian in which he lives, as friends dropped by to sing or play—a roster which includes The Shook Twins, Gregory Alan Isakov, Tyler Thompson, and Jay Cobb Anderson. The laid-back feel and the banter captured between takes virtually brings us into the living album with them, and makes us a part of the creative experience. Craigie has said, “Music is not about making you feel better. It’s about making you feel that you’re not alone.” This album does just that, lyrically exploring the feelings and struggles we all have in a way that will make you laugh and cry, all within the same song.
With album opener “Virgin Guitar,” about the challenges and joys of living the lifestyle of a traveling songwriter, Craigie paints a portrait with stunning poetic imagery, and treats us to bluegrass twang with “Broken.” Rollicking album standout, “Bucketlist Grandmas” feels like a Highway 61 Revisited tribute, featuring heavy electric guitar work in a twelve bar blues format. “I weep when I’m alone, I smile through the rest, I laugh because I know the truth, every light is surrounded by darkness,” he sings, as he challenges the false personas surrounding a musician’s lifestyle, which really is one of loneliness and sacrifice. Craigie pays homage to astronaut Michael Collins, the third, mostly overlooked member of the Apollo 11 moon landing, in a song of the same name. Collins never set foot on the surface, instead, remained in the shuttle as it orbited the moon during the famed landing. The chorus rings out, “Sometimes we take the fame, sometimes we sit backstage, but if it weren’t for me them boys would still be there,” in this playful portrayal of the misfortune of poor Michael Collins and his lack of acknowledgement for the feat of the moon landing.
On album standout, “I am California,” Craigie takes a somber turn; each verse speaks of sorrow and remorse as the chorus turns to a cry from his native and beloved California. “So drink all my wine, cut all my trees, make love on my beaches, smoke all my weed. I am California can’t you see, wherever you roam, You’ll always want me,” a personified California cries, pointing out how we use those things to make us feel good, to chase our muse in a vicious cycle of only longing for more, when all reality all we ever wanted was a sense of home—a wonderfully poetic song with unrivaled depth on the record. Sometimes we must leave what we love behind in order to discover what really matters.
No Rain, No Rose is a masterwork in every aspect—the songs bear truth, relate the stories of the common human experience, and make us feel like we aren’t alone in this world. Craigie embraces the questions and examines the crossroads that life so often presents with honesty and bravery. The world needs more songs and artists like him.
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