Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is A Few Stars Apart, the new album from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.
Since 2019’s Turn Off The News (Build A Garden), Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real have been concerned with Big Picture™ ideas. At its center, that album had a concern over the Information Action Ratio, and how the news is manufactured to make you feel miserable, so you might as well try to unplug and make a garden. Bear in mind, this was before a world-decimating plague and all of us being sucked into our phones, feeds and TikTok algorithms even more than before. Last year’s Naked Garden, a rarities/outtakes collection from the Turn Off The News, doubled down on that mood, in the midst of last year. The band’s new album — recorded in Nashville with Dave Cobb at the legendary Studio A at RCA, and made by the band during their first extended time off the road since at least 2010 — is concerned less with questions of the metaphysical and existential, and more with matters of the heart, of human connection and of finding comfort in the people around you, regardless of everything else. It’s a lushly rendered, heart-on-sleeve record that conjures Tom Petty making a country ballads album. It’s also Promise of the Real’s best to-date.
Nelson passed much of the COVID quarantine on Willie Nelson’s ranch in Texas, whiling away the hours doing extensive live stream and YouTube clips of him, Willie and his brother jamming out, enjoying the time together. That mood — of connection, of hanging with those closest to you — permeates A Few Stars Apart, 11 songs with titles like “We’ll Be Alright,” “Leave ’Em Behind” and “Smile.” Where previous albums were devoted to being impossible to classify (a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll), A Few Stars Apart hews closely to mid-tempo ballads and ramblers, a comforting, content sound as opposed to the endless reaching of the band’s previous records. Piano leads tracks like “Smile” and “More Than We Can Handle,” and strummed acoustic guitars are the mode here versus the pyrotechnics that made the Promise of the Real Jackson Maine’s band in A Star is Born.
The album could be arranged around the general thesis laid out in “No Reason”: “I guess I got along with a lonely life,” Nelson sings over a shuffling beat, “Would you mind if I stayed tonight, I’d leave the world behind if I could live here in your eyes.” “Wildest Dreams” recounts specifics of nights with someone you love, down to what the sunset looked like against their dress, while “Throwin’ Away Your Love” wonders of all the things we miss when take someone’s love for granted. A Few Stars Apart is filled with these soft moments of deliverance, and regret, and comfort in each other, an album that celebrates our messy humanity after a year when all we could lean on is that human connection. It’s hopeful and grateful, and an album to celebrate.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.