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By: David Fletcher
Tommy Luke’s Where Have You Been proves that country music still knows how to tell a story, serve up some real crying-in-your-beer tunes, and have a boot-scootin’ good time.
The six-song EP runs the gambit of classic country formulas with a fresh breath bringing them back to life. Equal parts John Prine and James McMurtry, Luke can bring you up with wit and humor and take you down with a bit of understated protest.
“I’ve just always liked old bluegrass music and old songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Doc Watson, Jimmie Rodgers,” Luke says, adding “Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt” to the list.
The album’s first track, the title track, puts a story to the EP’s minimalist cover art, which features a man alone at a bar with a beer, an empty shot glass, and record playing on the juke box.
In the song, we find out that the beer and the shot were bought in the hopes of being joined by a significant other only to come to the realization that the speaker has been stood up in spite of his efforts to play all of her favorite songs on the juke box.
The bluesy rhythm accomplished with a guitar, a fiddle, and an accordion gives the song a feeling of loneliness that escalates into a lonely drunkenness as the rhythm picks up and the background vocalists join in.
Although the album is by no means a concept album, we might assume the night in question in the first song turned out alright in the second song’s celebration, “Sex in the Mornin’.” This is a fun song, not a dirty song, and with the background vocalists joining in, one can imagine a crowd also singing along with the artist at a live show.
Things take a more somber tone as Luke turns his attention toward poverty on “Bottom Dollar” in which the singer laments, “Money ever made me happy” but realizes “Happiness never made me a buck.” Ultimately, the song finds its center around the notion that money can’t buy happiness, but it would sure help. And Luke could use a little help.
“I’ve been living in my RV for about a year now,” Luke explains, “and I have to leave my spot I’ve been parked so…I put these two things on Bandcamp [Where Have You Been and Cocaine Blues] so I could make a little money to get new brake pads on my RV.”
The EP’s latter half, Luke puts a twist on common country tropes of loneliness, industry, and railroad tracks.
In “Jack Lays On the Track,” Luke tells the strange and sad story of the lovelorn couple Jack and Stacy who find themselves on the same railroad track on the same date with fate.
“Macho B” finds Luke channeling his inner Johnny Cash as he tells a harsh story of industrialization through the eyes of a jaguar that dies a lonely death in the cage.
Finally, Luke comes full circle on the EP’s last track, “Lonely.” Though, this time around, there’s no more crying in his beer. This time around, being alone means standing on his own as a flawed, loveable, and defiant man of his own destiny sitting on top of the world.
As for what’s next for Luke, it looks like he’s content to live the simple life of a country musician.
“I’m just livin’ on the road with my dog,” he says. “It’s great!”