By Adeem Bingham, Contributing Editor
Regardless of where you lie when it comes to his new collection of EP’s, Waylon Payne is a relentlessly interesting person. I imagine myself in an airport lobby with a drink in hand, intentionally missing my flight so that I can keep feverishly turning the pages of his story at the bar. In this fantasy, he is nursing from a glass and reminiscing of his childhood years balanced on a stool beside the Outlaw Country singer Sammi Smith singing proudly along to, “She’s in Love with a Rodeo Man.”
But this is just one of the many versions of Waylon that the new album, “Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher, & Me” (released, uniquely, as a series of EPs) is imbued with. The second installment, a collection of three songs entitled “Act II”, feels like a room full of Waylon’s ghosts arguing with one another in the shadow of his sober self. That it was recorded in Texas, only to be re-tracked in the former Monument Studios where his mother sang while pregnant with him, only gives legs to that narrative: this album is the stitching up of his fragmented pieces.
The EP opens with, “All the Trouble,” a blues-driven number that features an ear worm of a hook. “I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need,” is such a tragic & relatable little refrain that carries the steady mood of the song with this wonderful lead guitar part bouncing rhythmically in the corner. Some of the lyrical imagery inches towards the cliché in the verses, divorcing from predictability only once with the lyric, “If there’s a prince that’s waiting, somebody send him on,” but it’s a really welcome lyric and, again, every verse is leaning towards the spine of the track: that hook. Overall, aside from the intention & passion he brings to the chorus, this song feels the least personal of the three.
“Dangerous Criminal,” the second song, is a tortured piece on addiction that almost sounds like a misplaced Jason Isbell track. “Hold on to the thought that you can’t be bribed or bought,” Payne sings, with a sort of torpid drawl that really accents the agony of the words. “Can’t remember truth from lies you told.” It’s his use of empty space where I first begin to see the influence of Bobbie Gentry on his songwriting. It’s the mystery in the things he doesn’t say that draws you into a search for the story here – and it is here.
The last song on this installment is my personal favorite from the incredible “Ode to Billy Joe”-inspired string parts played by Kristin Wilkinson all the way to the extended pause when he sings, “He walked to my room about 4:00 AM looking quite jaded at my disappointment in myself for needing the attention from someone.” The narrative in this one is literary and the movement in the production is organic, emotive; splattered with the Mississippi Delta and immersed in memoir.
My impression from the six tracks that have dropped so far is that we are in store for a stunning, self-revelatory album decades in the making. Waylon took it to heart when Billy Joe Shaver told him, “It’s okay to take your time,” and has patiently brooded over this project. It’s apparent in the album’s timelessness, in the depth of its storytelling, and in the clean, lush production (Eric Masse & Frank Liddell) that signals intentionality and commitment to a masterful work.