My first listen to Punch-Drunk Life, the latest album from Rose’s Pawn Shop, flummoxed me. Did Apple Music somehow serve up Chris Hillman and the Desert Rose Band? While I’ve seen the RPS name in print from time to time through the years, I never pressed play on anything by them until Friday morning, after scanning a positive review on another blog. Basically, like the DRB, the L.A.-based band stand at the crossroads of folk-rock, bluegrass and country, while frontman Paul Givant’s vocals possess a high lonesome quality similar to Hillman’s.
The album opens with a tune sure to hit home for those of a certain vintage, including me: “Old Time Pugilist”: “Hey, the glory days never felt so far from here/As time keeps adding up, I gotta laugh or it’s all gonna go to tears.” “Ghost Town,” too, will resonate with some, as the lyrics dig into how a past love-gone-wrong still haunts Givant’s present.
The touching “Gratitude,” meanwhile, celebrates a loved one who left this mortal coil a few beats too soon. “Better Now,” which was inspired by a tour of Alaska and Canada, expresses Givant’s longing for his girlfriend (now his wife).
By and large, these aren’t the songs of someone beginning their life’s journey or even a few steps into it; these are the confessions of someone who’s faced life’s challenges and failures head-on and lived to tell the tale. “Fugitive,” for instance, finds him facing an old demon, as does “Miss Tennessee,” while “Boomerang” casts a comeuppance as long-gestating karma. “The Lonely One,” for its part, hones in on the reality faced by many touring musicians: Life on the road isn’t all fun and games. “High Lonesome” spotlights one of Givant’s momentary escapes: losing himself in the constellations that accent the night sky. “Satellite” is another love-gone-wrong song, this time questioning “Why is the love that makes me ache/the hardest habit to break.”
One of my favorites, “Halfway Down the Road,” follows. In it, he shares a hard-won truth many young people have yet to learn: “There ain’t no real reward/at the journey’s end/The only real treasures exist/in every moment I’m in.” The album closes with another philosophical treatise,“Life by Misadventure,” in which Givant confides, “I’m grateful for my mistakes/They eventually transported me to a better place.”
In short, anyone who enjoys the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose Band and Dan Fogelberg circa High Country Snows should get much out of Punch-Drunk Life.
The track list: