James Weaver reports on DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS' grief-driven single "You Never Leave My Heart"
Over the years, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors have become firm favourites with Cross Rhythms radio listeners. With one of the most passionate and erudite singer/songwriters on the whole Americana scene, and with beautifully judged music from his neighbourly accompanists, the band have continued to craft memorable recordings. Just some of their Cross Rhythms radio hits have been "Nothing But Trouble" from 2013's 'Good Light' album; "Last Thing We Do" from 2015's 'Medicine' album; and "Fight For Love" from 2017's 'Souvenirs' album. Now the band's soon-to-be-released set, 'Dragons', sees Drew working with other songwriters. The upcoming album features collaborations including Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby and Sean McConnell. Although it may be considered Holcomb's most collaborative effort, the new single from 'Dragons', "You Never Leave My Heart", could hardly be more personal. Directed towards the pain, loneliness and despair of experiencing grief, the single is a loving tribute to Holcomb's dearly-departed brother.
Drew Holcomb said about the song, "Grief is a lonesome but loyal friend. I lost a brother when I was 17. His name was Jay. He was three years younger than me and was born paralyzed from the chest down. He was an incredible person, full of joy and laughter in the face of a life of physical trials that most humans will never encounter. I started writing songs in college as a way to deal with the loss. In those early years, I only wrote one song explicitly about him, and have struggled to do it again in the following 14 years. His memory hits me at the most unexpected times. One day, walking down the street in my own neighbourhood, lost in my thoughts, and I am transported to my childhood home."
Drew continued, "It is evening, the day of the funeral, and friends and family have gathered at our house to weep and laugh and be together. I am a ghost in the room, seeing myself talking to friends, and I am reminded of the loneliness, the depth of agony in saying permanent goodbyes to my blood, my brother, my memory companion, my friend. Even still, a lifetime removed from his presence, the love and story he wrote on my heart is eternal. In the studio, I told Cason and the band that I wanted to record the song at night, so it would feel like it did in that childhood home, the scene of the song. I told them I only had four or five vocal takes in me, because I was going to allow myself to re-enter the grief in its totality, and sing in a way that I have never sung before. I believe our grief, in order to endure the transformation towards joy, must be externalized, in laughter and in tears, and in song. Here is my song, brother, I love you."
Drew has clearly channelled his grief into something positive. By cherishing his dear brother's memory, Holcomb's cathartic experience has played a key role in his ability to craft this poignant new single. The hard graft Drew and his neighbours have put into their new album bodes well for their continued success. Drew commented that 'Dragons' is "the culmination of two and half years of writing and wrestling and dreaming and fighting. I have never worked this hard on a record before. I think it is the best one we have ever made."
As well as "You Never Leave My Heart", another truly outstanding song on the project is "Family", which was released as a single in April. Drew spoke about the background of the song. "I am the second of four kids, and our childhood was hot Memphis summers and long road trips in a red conversion van. We visited over 40 states before I graduated high school. Everyone has a family, for better or worse. No one can inspire more loyalty and more frustration than blood. I wanted to write a song that reflected the beauty, chaos, dysfunction and hilarity that family can be. My own family has been a springboard for me. My mom went to more bars to see me play music in the first two years of my career than the rest of her life combined. My brother travelled the world with me for 18 months as my tour manager. My sister and her family inspired the song 'Live Forever'. They have been with me every step of the way. I hope this song makes you laugh and smile at the paradox of family. It's the best thing. It's the hardest thing. It's the thing that defines us in more ways than we can articulate and understand."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.