First Impressions: Lonesome Desert Strum by David Gideon

Doesn’t much matter what they are, but lived experiences are the key ingredients when it comes to writing, be it a song, poem or novel. They enable one to add the color, aka details, to what otherwise might be seen or heard as unfinished sketches. Too, they fuel the empathy that’s necessary to create fully formed characters. 

I start there because, quite frankly, David Gideon’s lived experiences sound like they came from one of those thick, generation-summarizing novels that might have graced the cover of Time or Newsweek back when literature was pop-culture fodder. As a kid, his family bounced around a bit, including summers spent at the hippie commune in rural Tennessee known as The Farm. (It was the focus of an interesting documentary in 2014 called American Commune.) It was there, in fact, that Gideon learned to play drums—and, I imagine, he picked up the guitar at some point, as well. Then—as all children eventually do—he set out on his own. In his case, that meant playing throughout the West and working as both a DJ and, for a few years, ranch hand. He eventually found a place to call his home in Silver City, New Mexico. 

Along the way, he developed a knack for crafting songs. Some are culled from his life, others from stories he’s heard, but either/or matters not, really. They resonate. From what I gather, he’s released a few EPs through the years and, a week back, shared his full-length debut with the world. Called Lonesome Desert Strum, it returns the “western” to what was once known as “country & western” music. Recorded in Nashville, he’s backed by a who’s who of the Music City’s finest, including drummer Pete Abbott, bassist Dave Roe and guitarist extraordinaire Kenny Vaughan, not to mention steel guitar great Steve Hinson and Chris Scruggs, whose lineage includes country singer Tex Dickerson and bluegrass great Earl Scruggs.

The set opens with what might be heard as the album’s keynote address, “Southwestern Skies,” about returning home after a stretch on the road. “Well, I woke up in a southern-northern town/took a taxi to the airport/I was a Frisco bound…” 

The song dates to a 2019 EP, yet it sounds like it’s been kicking around the collective unconscious for decades; Gideon puts a new spin to the sense many of us have when away from home for a time. The same’s true for the 11 songs that follow; these are songs that two-step away from perfunctory cliches, infusing a distinct and welcome perspective into the goings-on. In “A Woman Like Her,” for instance, he digs into one of the building blocks of song since folks first put words to melodies: broken hearts. But, in this instance, she’s not to blame. As he admits, “I took her precious love/and I drug it through the dirt.” In “Drifter,” another song about life on the road, he shares that “Women, weed and whiskey/those three words tell the story of my life/‘cause I never seem to get enough/and that’s why I spend these lonely nights…”

“Ashes,” another highlight, finds him contemplating mortality—and the history of country music along the way. (When was the last time Ralph Peer was name-checked in a song?) “Wings of an Angel” is a true stunner. It’s one of those songs you hear and…wow. It sounds like a lost Lucinda Williams song. Gideon’s gravelly voice descends into the smoldering music as he contemplates whether he’s heading to the great beyond or the great below. “Every angel needs to fly/you can reach heaven if you try/I got to find my grace some day/before my angel flies away…”

At times, the music swings the way Willie’s and Waylon’s often did back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the “outlaw sound” stripped the cosmopolitan strings from the mix and returned country music to its roots, yet it remains centered in the present. Lonesome Desert Strum is a damn good album. Give it a go.

The track list:

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