To steal from Dickens outright, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…the times being 2020. In the ‘worst’ column, global pandemic. In the ‘best,’ being forced to stay home means lots of time to pursue all manner of craft, and many musicians found a muse in mandated isolation. Back in ‘worst,’ with so much material now flooding the market, a lot of noteworthy albums got shoved aside unnecessarily. Earth & Asphalt from Beki Hemingway is one of them.
She, along with musician/life co-conspirator Randy Kerkman, have been making music for years and are not strangers to the amorphous pseudo-sub-genre of Americana, but Earth & Asphalt finds them both digging a little deeper into the style. Breathe deep: they have not gone Bro-Country on us.
Instead, we get a hybrid of the best of two worlds, the musical storytelling country made its reputation upon, and the punch of roots rock that keeps it all from getting too sentimental. Things burst from the gate with the opening “Birmingham” and continue that energy through “Lay Your Burdens Down” and “Shape of My Face.”
“Hurricane” is a momentary breather and this track, along with the equally reflective “Cost Me Everything,” quickly became my favorites on the project. As a lyricist, Hemingway walks a careful line blending detail with a plain-spoken forthrightness that suggests journalism. Falling too far to either side leads to either wordy, purple prose in the abstract or a matter-of-fact listmaking that, in my opinion, has been the bane of the country-Americana sound for two decades now. Thankfully, Hemingway knows how to express a moment and allow you to see the sights without losing you along the way.
Musically, she and Kerkman always bring the firepower, and that’s particularly evident on the confidently stubborn “We’re Not Going Anywhere.”
So, yes…the previous 18 months have been a boon to musicians who needed the time and impetus to make some of their passion projects real. Now it’s time for the audience to pay attention to what independent artists have delivered, and few albums deliver as forcefully or tunefully as Beki Hemingway’s Earth & Asphalt.