The first time I met him, in May 2017, Dillon Warnek professed his admiration for Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Paul Robeson. The first two were expected, I suppose, but the last? While Robeson is a revered figure name-checked in many historical-minded music tomes and documentaries, I’d never before (or since) met anyone who spoke of the iconic bass-baritone with as much reverence as Warnek. We talked again a year later – Robeson wasn’t mentioned that night, I don’t think, but much more was. Diane liked him, too. He’s a personable guy with a deep knowledge of music history.
Both meetings, I should mention, followed Courtney Marie Andrews concerts, the first of which was just the two of them and the second with a full band. In both, he reminded me of such guitar slingers as Gurf Morlix and Kenny Vaughan, infusing his playing with equal parts emotion and technique.
Fast forward three years – though, in some respects, it seems like 30 – and he’s now on his own. He released a three-song EP, Demos 2018, that featured an overt Townes influence (although I purchased it from Bandcamp, I never downloaded it and it’s since gone away – so I’m working from memory here). Flash ahead to February 2020: Backed by Margo Price’s band, the Price Tags, he’d just completed work on his first long player, with only distribution an issue. Then the pandemic hit.
Rather than release that album into the void, he did what many of us did at the time – retreat into solitude. A few months later, however, he turned to the same crew as before and, after working out the social-distancing kinks, laid down the six songs that formed the Fruit from Crooked Trees EP, which he released in September 2020. As I sometimes say, it possessed glimmers of greatness – especially on “Tomorrow When You Wake Up I’ll Be Gone” and “Look a Moment Longer.”
If I read the timeline correctly, Now That It’s All Over is the album he finished before undertaking Fruit from Crooked Trees. It’s a spirited set that sports the feel of a favorite flannel shirt; you’ll put it on and wear it (or play it) for days on end. The songs never feel frayed, however. Too, like Hayes Carll, he’s an affable narrator, one part barfly and one part raconteur, telling tall tales that reveal as much about him as the subjects themselves.
For the most part, he reins in the influences from overt to whatever its antonym is, though strains of Townes, Dylan and Kristofferson – but never Robeson – can be discerned in a few of the tunes. Diane notes – and I agree – that he often sounds like a young Bob Dylan, while one of my favorite tracks, “Tuesday, the 5th,” conjures Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” in spots.
Another highlight is the title track, which features Margo Price on background vocals. It’s one of those songs that flies low to the ground, scraping treetops as it passes overhead. You’ll feel it in your bones. “Now it’s morning here in Memphis/and all my money’s gone/and now that it’s all over/it doesn’t seem so fun…”
The album closes with the soul-scorching “If Wishes Were Bruises,” which finds him alone with his guitar, thoughts and broken heart. “I made so many mistakes that I’ve lost count/but there’s one I’ll regret my whole life/I wish I’d married you, baby/you’d have made a great ex-wife.”
Much will likely be made of the impetus for that song, but backstories matter not when the material itself is strong – and it is. Although recorded in Nashville, this is country music by way of Texas, outlaw in spirit if not practice. The vivid word pictures will stick with you after the music’s done, as will the tunes he’s set them to. It’s well worth many listens. (It’s available on the usual streaming sites, plus can be purchased from Bandcamp.)
The track list: