Long Run the Fugitives is the new album from Athens, Georgia songwriter Tyler Key. You may remember we featured Key back in 2015, when we covered his album Grow Wings, which remains our favourite folk album to deal with the mothman mythology. The new album has a wider scope, current global events refracted through the prism of Key’s personal experience and worldview. “The record you’re listening to turned into a record about aging. It’s a political record” he explains. “Aging is political. I’ve been very tired for quite some time of these old politics, the run-and-shoot, the flash-in-the-pan, the dead-on-arrival ratings game. But the vitriol fizzles into complacency after a while: a process I’ve tried to fight. Hopefully it shows.”
The album opens with ‘Running My Life’, a gently soulful, folk-inflected track that brings to mind the Cave Singers. The song immediately references the increasingly murky concept of “truth” in twenty-first century America, drawing on a classic mystery. “Two plus two is often five,” Key sings. “Elvis Presley is still alive.”
‘Lucky Man’ returns from Grows Wings, what described previously as “swingin’ barroom country”. It bears some of the hallmarks of Father John Misty, rollicking along with half a tongue in cheek. The song is re-recorded, crisper and clearer with an extra dash of verve, which serves to add a little more bite to the story of the central lucky man, who sees fame, fortune and power fall into his lap, though not quite the presidency yet. “Well there’s a tower in Manhattan that bears my name, big guilty letters on a big guilty frame, it reads high, I got lucky man”
‘Ordinary Guy’ is the flipside, a blue-collar folk song about getting off work and watching football at Applebee’s. It has the same kind of wry humour as the previous track, but is also surprisingly heartfelt, especially the sequence about dreaming of dead parents.
“In my dreams where they’re standing next to me
my father’s hardened hand from the factory
slaps my knee as I begin to cry”
There’s an impressive range of atmosphere and tone across the record, proving that Tyler Key can’t simply be filed away into the folk singer-songwriter category. Take for example, ‘Happy Birthday Sad Whiteboy Nation’, with its serpentine funkiness, Key’s vocals rising in pitch compared to the other tracks. A reworking of a song from his first album, ‘Willowbrook’ is what Key describes as “the saddest and simplest song I ever endeavoured to write.” It’s a Jason Isbell style country/folk ballad, the song is a triumph, rich and emotive and stirring.
The record ends with ‘Penelope (Hold On)’, a fan favourite that has finally been committed to tape. It’s another of the album’s direct and sincere songs, which Key describes as an attempt to prove to a girl he could “best Conor Oberst.” The verses display an effortless wordy poeticism, while the chorus goes straight for the heart, with the simple lines “you gotta hold on.”
Long Runs the Fugitives is an interesting fusion of the timely and the timeless, built on sturdy foundations of classic country/folk, but thematically very much rooted in the present day. Like folk of bygone years, it combines sly humour with raw emotion, wide-lens societal commentary with introspective ballads. It’s no mean feat to capture both ironic detachment and that sense of quiet everyday tragedy that occurs in every “ordinary” life.
You can get Long Run the Fugitives now from the Tyler Key Bandcamp page.