Nowadays, John Calvin Abney knows to look for the quiet.
Through a decade’s worth of maturation, thousands of shows, and hundreds of thousands of miles, Abney’s in-between moments are spent in thought, putting words and composition to tape.
He spent much of 2017 on the road, whether on guitar and keys for John Moreland or on solo trips across the country to play and to reconnect with a vast network of musical friends across the country. Highlights from the whirlwind year include performing as Moreland's dedicated sideman at the legendary Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, and accompanying Moreland and John Prine for an encore song in Birmingham, Alabama.
Meanwhile, Abney has recorded a personal album of reflections on change and realization, titled “Coyote,” at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock. He performed many of the instruments, while calling in friends Shonna Tucker on bass, Paddy Ryan on drums, and Megan Palmer on violin and keys. The album will be released in May 2018 and is the anticipated follow-up to Abney’s 2016 LP, “Far Cries and Close Calls,” a single from which PopMatters.com called “instantly memorable” and that drew rightful comparisons to the hushed symphonic pop of Elliott Smith. Abney crafted ten songs of unwavering beauty and insight, marrying languorous soundscapes to bittersweet reflections on losing what matters most, and the kind of resilience necessary to come out whole on the other side.
His fans may know him for his freneticism onstage as a side man, or for being a preternaturally gifted and joyful instrumentalist, but Abney’s songwriting has evolved swiftly over the course of a few short years. He’s prolific, having released new and sometimes vastly different work every year except 2017, and that pause is key.
“Coyote” has a distinct sense of place, of loneliness and love. The album is spacious and steady, and it comes at the heels of Abney taking a much-needed breath to process those experiences, a journey listeners can hear in real time.
“For years, I’d record on cassette tape in my bedroom, humming softly to myself,” Abney says. “I still find solace in that kind of approach, though I couldn’t quite get the sound I wanted alone in my bedroom. Coyote is a step toward the dreamier pop and stripped-down compositions I was imagining on those tapes.”
The record opens with the twinkling standout “Always Enough,” establishing the theme of wincing optimism that carries through the rest of “Coyote.” “My blood was red, but I worried it black / Plans to ashes, promises to dust,” he sings, before resolving with, “There’s nowhere to go but up from here.” The rest of side A meanders with Abney: “Cowboys and Canyon Queens” has him looking back at Oklahoma—and all the gravity that entails—while the lazy shuffle “Get Your House in Order” has a humorous bent, eyeing the similarities between Abney and his travel-weary friends.
Later, “South Yale Special” marks a departure from Tulsa and a subsequent period of transience. The simple organ arrangements and pedal steel on “Sundowner” haunt the crushing lament on missing someone, “I’d kill all these miles for you.” And finally, Abney finds himself at home on “Leslie Lane,” a string-heavy, instrumental lullaby.
In all the madness, Abney seems to have found moments of calm where none was apparent. And on “Coyote,” he’s chronicled that search and his resolutions with a hushed clarity.