by Jason A. Bermiller
Kingsport, Tennessee’s Jeff Lane may rank as one of the best discoveries on the folk scene today. Far from an overnight success, Lane is a veteran… sort of. Far from living the average story of an emerging artist, Lane started his live performances at the age
of 40. I have got to know Jeff well over the past few months, the two of us becoming close friends, and he has been very forthcoming about his later start in performing live when talking to me and to his audience during his live streaming solo concerts on Facebook.
Despite having played guitar since he was a young boy, Jeff claims that he was terrified at the thought of performing in front of people for many years. Quite a surprising piece of information given that he performs today with great confidence.
Lane’s 2019 album Songteller is a collection of powerful, honest pieces that cloak some of the sophistication and expertise on this self-recorded, self-mixed, self-mastered independent release. If you are looking for a story-journey that will engage you and take
you away, then Jeff Lane’s Songteller is the album you should familiarize yourself with. This is a 100% self-release, so the album is more like a visit to Lane’s living room rather than a “full” experience with a completely produced album. Nevertheless, it’s an
intriguing set of songs by Lane.
The title Songteller not only refers to the stories that each song “tells”, but also to the fact that Jeff tells the stories that resulted in his songs, stories that are human and sublime all at once, stories that are so personal that they expose parts of Lane’s
inner world, stories that touch the heart. From funny to amusing to heart-wrenching, Lane’s songs stay with you because they are, sometimes painfully, honest. Such personal transparency in songwriting and performing is not common these days. Many artists might
shy from such straightforwardness, possibly because to be that honest an artist must have the guts, the sheer strength, to be vulnerable. So, no wonder Lane was reticent to play in front of people when he was younger. Maybe it’s because he needed some more life
behind him to give him the confidence and fortitude.
Another strength that Jeff has is his voice. It is a sonorous, deep, soulful voice that eases open the door for you to have a sit and maybe a ‘sip’. Lane’s voice welcomes you into a space that few singers have the ability to create: a home for your heart and
soul to rest a minute. His fans are ardent and devoted, primarily because of this rare combination of vulnerability, world class song-crafting and trustworthy humanity. It was probably from this reception at his one-man gigs that Lane decided to record these
songs with just him and his guitar.
Songteller opens with “Me And Jesus Having A Beer”, the story of a man, yes you guessed it, having a beer with Christ… in a church parking lot… in his car. Lane’s lyrics pierce through this gentle, almost lullaby-like track:
“We talked all about the broken pieces of my life,
My five minutes of fame,
‘Bout all my ex-wives.
Well, I got over them.
Talkin’ ‘bout the kids must have plucked out my eye.
Well, I put on my sunglasses and blamed it on the Light.
Truth is I guess I didn’t want Him to see me cry.
We’re just sitting’ there in the car,
Him and me and my pride.”
“Rings” brings a cooler, darker tone to the album. Settling into a lament, Lane’s spare guitar cries over the mistakes of a life filled with regrets. Jeff mixes soulful rolls in his vocalizations in this “hard” song. “I’m Getting Married In Gatlinburg Again” bounces
out as a relief from the soulful depths that open the album. Laced with fun and danceable rhythms, “Gatlinburg” draws an easy smile. That smile continues with the humorous “Parts Of Me Are Blue”, a reverse love song that ends in shallow lust, or at least lust resolves
the “problem”… sort of. The listener is left with wondering what the narrator is thinking by the end of the song.
“Love And War” has a lilting rhythm that belies the sincerity of the narrator’s desire for a truce in his relationship, a relationship that needs healing. Lane approaches the issue with less of a maudlin feel and more of a straight-ahead request for an end to the pain.
One thing about Songteller that leaves the listener wanting is the lack of a band. While a stripped down guitar-voice recording can be endearing, even haunting, to pull off a whole album with that limited canvas leaves some of the work feeling unfinished. For example,
“Gatlinburg” calls for a band to expand the spectrum of the sound, as does “Jones”, an “almost true” story of one of Jeff’s oldest friends. “Jones” stands as one of the highlights on the album with Lane interjecting his verses with “aw-haw-haw”, a call out that hearkens
back to the non-words of early 50s rock and roll. The meaning would have more emotional punch if some percussion and possibly a bass line were part of the soundscape. Still, Lane’s lyrics flow into a simple refrain of the title, sung in Jeff’s signature style:
“Walkin’ round town in concrete shoes with your arms in the air,
You know that they know that you screwed up, but you hope that they still care.
Jones! What the hell are you doing’ out here, man?
Oh, the last time I saw you, you were working’ on your master plan, yeah.
Jones… Jones… Jones… Jones…”
A haunting piece, “Jones” has that quality that appears in only a few select great songs: true soul. But, like soul music, it really needs those additional instruments to fully deliver what Lane is doing here. Still, the feel is genuine and the song flows smoothly.
Maybe that’s the quality that Jeff Lane delivers in seeming effortlessness. His lyrical song stylings appear to spread the words into his songs much like flecks of paint on a canvas, the image appearing slowly and coming into clear focus when he wants you to see it.
Some of the paintings are full landscapes and some are portraits on Songteller. Of course, this trait is not effortless at all. That’s the illusion. There’s sincere blood on the page with the majority of songs on Songteller. There are some crafted pieces here.
The album closes with ”a sad cheatin’ song” called “I Drank And I Drank With Willie And Hank”. Loaded with humour and general lightheartedness, this hurtin’ song is a perfect close to Songteller, an album that takes the listener on a genuine journey through the paths,
sidewalks and bars of lives recalled through well-performed songs. Jeff Lane continues to create new pieces today and will soon be releasing another album, hopefully with a band or additional instruments on some if not all of the tracks. Until then, Songteller is the
journey he has left for us to take, and a fine journey it is.
Artist: Jeff Lane
Release Date: August 8, 2019
Label: [Independent Release] Farm Dog Publishing
Jeff Lane: Vocals, Guitar
1. Me And Jesus Having A Beer, 5:35
2. Rings, 5:30
3. I’m Getting Married In Gatlinburg Again, 4:11
4. Movin’ On, 4:47
5. Parts Of Me Are Blue, 2:15
6. Bad Land, 4:11
7. Love And War, 3:18
8. Jones, 5:07
9. I Drank And I Drank With Willie And Hank, 3:59