(Shock Ink) Over the course of what is now nine albums, Ward Hayden has created a potent new take on country music that celebrates its roots while at the same time offering contemporary relevance and appeal, winning awards and critical praise here and abroad. The just-unveiled lyric video for his song "Can't Wake Up" demonstrates why the singer/songwriter and his band have become leading lights of Americana music.
"The song came to me in a dream, in a nightmare I literally could not wake up from. It was before the war in Ukraine ever started," says Hayden of its prophetic origins. "Later, seeing the areas that were just leveled by bombs and missiles in the news was crazy. Watching what's recounted in the song play out in real life in this modern day and age was strange for me. If somebody decides to go to war against somebody else, it just wipes that life that people in the war zone knew right off the face of the earth." Over a hauntingly atmospheric track cut with the Outliers, he spins a poignant poetic vision of the destruction of people and places within the tragic cauldron of warfare.
"Can't Wake Up" may seem like an outlier on South Shore, coming on May 5 on the band's own Faster Horses Recordings. The bulk of the album is Hayden's reflections on Scituate, MA, the coastal town south of Boston where he grew up and lived before moving to the big Beantown city to launch his musical career, and returned to five years ago. But "Can't Wake Up" has layered meanings as well as, like the rest of the album and many of country music's finest songs, it explores one's place in the world in a way that touches the listener's soul.
Originally derived from Hayden's personal journey of loss and transformation, he notes, "I wrote the song after my life in my hometown pretty much exploded and burned down into nothing. My best friend passed away in a car crash that caught fire; he and I were both about to go to Law School. In the wake of his passing my perspective on how I wanted to live really changed. I exploded the life I'd known up until that point. I decided to not go to Law School and join my father's law practice, and instead pursue music as a more serious endeavor. My relationship with my long-term girlfriend of eight years came to an end and then I had a falling out with my other best friend, who had been in Girls Guns and Glory, but didn't want to be away from home touring (he went on to pursue a career in Marine Biology). I think the stuff happening in my own life crept into my unconscious mind while I was dreaming of things being blown up and burned to the ground.
"It was majorly cathartic to write. In my mind, I relive the memories pretty much every time I hear this song and a lot of emotions come flooding back. For me the only option, once so many things in my hometown fell apart, was to venture out, keep moving forward, and see what else the world had to offer someone looking to start anew."
With illustrative lyrics and a slow-burning melody, "Cant' Wake Up" demonstrates how the group has developed their "own brand of American roots music that satisfies like homemade apple pie" (Farmington Valley Times), earning them seven Boston Music Awards and an Independent Artist of the Year at the French Country Music Awards plus an Americana Music Awards nomination for Artist of the Year. Such is the power and allure of their "smooth, authentic Honky Tonk/early Rock & Roll vibe that's incredibly endearing," as Cincinnati City Beat describes the sound of Ward Hayden & The Outliers.
When Ward is not home in Scituate with his wife and daughter (who was born there), he and his group (formerly known as Girls Guns and Glory) are on the road playing some 200 dates a year in North America and more than a dozen tours of Europe. As the only artists to win a Boston Music Award for Act of the Year and the city's legendary radio station WBCN's annual Rumble, Hayden & The Outliers have been elemental in cultivating a country scene in what's already revered as a great and fertile music community that has yielded numerous stars and significant artists from a range of styles and genres to fame and acclaim.
As Hayden explains, South Shore is "the closest thing I've ever done to a concept album. I wanted to just recount my experience of growing up in a small town and what it meant and what it took to get out and leave that behind and try to pursue something, chase after something that was and is a dream. I used to joke that my greatest achievement was I got out of here, because it was no easy feat."
The "Can't Wake Up" lyric video will be followed by a live action video for "(Breaking Up With) My Hometown," the album's initial emphasis track. The LP's release will also be preceded by two songs posted on all the major music streaming services: "Write A Song," a musical mission statement for the prolific Hayden, and "Crazy Love," which explores the ups and downs of a magnetic but ill-fated romance.
"There's that old adage that you can never really go back home," Hayden concludes. "Because whatever that nostalgia you have of that time back in the day, it just doesn't exist anymore. Life moves forward and life moves on. But I did want to go back and experience and see what was there and if I had a place in it. I left home in search of finding my place in the world and at this point in time that search led me back to where a lot of things for me started. It led me back home to the South Shore." The result is an album that carries on the grand country tradition of living in and leaving the small town of your youth that listeners will welcome into their homes.
Ward Hayden & The Outliers on Tour
28 - Stockholm, Sweden - Twang
29 - Mariefred, Sweden - Gripsholms Värdshus
30 - Kristianstad, Sweden - Biljardkompaniet
31 - Falkenburg, Sweden - Tryckhallen
1 - Norrtälje, Sweden - S.S. Norrtälje
4 - Uppsala, Sweden - Katalin
5 - Halden, Norway - Kulturhuset
6 - Malmö, Sweden - Medley
7 - Løten, Norway - Godshuset
8 - Austvatn, Norway - Odal Rockeclubb
11 - Bergen, Norway - Lille Ole Bull
12 - Oslo, Norway - Parkteatret
13 - Bø I Telemark, Norway - The Bull Inn
14 - Trondheim, Norway - Moskus
15 - Fredrikstad, Norway - Tæps
19 - Örebro, Sweden - Schreibers Garage
20 - Östersund, Sweden - Captain Cook
21 - Piteå, Sweden - Studio Acusticum
22 - Sundsvall, Sweden - Q Bar
5 - Syracuse, NY - The 443 Social Club
6 - Rochester, NY - Abilene
7 - Columbus, OH - Natalie's Grandview
11 - Lexington, KY - Thursday Night Live
12 - Indianapolis, IN - Duke's Indy
16 - Richmond, VA - Get Tight Lounge
18 - Thomas, WV - The Purple Fiddle
19 - York, PA - Central Market House
20 - Easton, MD - Stoltz Listening Room
26 - Pembroke, MA - Soundcheck Studios
5/27 - Brownfield, ME - Stone Mountain Arts Center
3 - Bethlehem, PA - Godfrey Daniels
4 - Union Dale, PA - Arlo's Country Store
17 - Cohasset, MA - South Shore Arts Festival
27 - Block Island, RI - Captain Nick's
2 - Marblehead, MA - Marblehead Festival of Arts
3 - Mystic, CT - Blue Mondays Concert Series
14 & 15 - Breide, Norway - Norsk Countrytreff Festival 2023
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