Drew Holcomb And The Neighbors – Strangers No More
Drew Holcomb And The Neighbors – Strangers No More
Format: CD – Vinyl LP – Digital
Label: Magnolia Records
Release date: June 9. 2023
There are no strangers at a Drew Holcomb show. For the better part of two decades, the award-winning songwriter has brought his audience together night after night, turning his shows into celebrations not only of contemporary American roots music, but of community and collaboration
He celebrates that sense of togetherness with ‘Strangers No More,’ the ninth studio album from Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. Written on both sides of a global pandemic that brought the band’s schedule to a temporary halt, it’s a record about the perspective of time, the rollercoaster of triumph and tragedy, and jubilation in the face of chaos. Holcomb and his longtime bandmates aren’t just reveling in one another’s presence after a long hiatus; they’re expanding their sound, too, finding room for timeless songwriting, modern-day Laurel Canyon folk, amplified Americana, and heartland rock & roll.
The past decade has been good to Holcomb. Beginning with 2013’s Good Light, he released five consecutive albums that peaked in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. He launched Moon River Music Festival, an annual event celebrating the music of the modern-day American South. He became a father of three and watched his wife, Ellie, launch her own award-winning solo career. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone hailed him as “one of Americana’s most popular stars” in an article praising Strangers No More’s predecessor, Dragons, whose single ‘End of the World’ became a hit on Triple A radio.
If Dragons was a rhapsody of life and family, then Strangers No More embraces a wider range of topics and textures. The songwriting is more introspective and universal this time around – “the kind of specific that applies to everyone,” Holcomb says – and the love songs that filled previous albums have been replaced by tunes that cover friendship, death, introspection, and Holcomb’s connection to his audience. “There’s a longer list of characters this time,” he adds.
Even more important than Holcomb’s characters are his collaborators, including bandmates Nathan Dugger (guitar), Rich Brinsfield (bass), Will Sayles (drums), and Ian Miller (keys). Some of those musicians have been members of The Neighbors since the very beginning. “Nathan and I have been playing together for nearly 20 years,” Holcomb says. “Rich and I have been playing for 18 years. I wanted to lean into that shared history and make a genuine ‘band record.'” Working again with producer and friend Cason Cooley, the group headed to Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios to record Strangers No More in eight inspired days. They focused on live-in-the-studio performances that showcased the band’s chemistry and camaraderie, capturing the bulk of each song – including vocals, instrumental textures, and solos – in real time. “We’d do eight to ten performances of a single song, looking for the revelatory moment,” Holcomb remembers. “The goal was to prove an expanded vision of who we are and what we do.”
Years earlier, while touring in support of Dragons, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors joined the Zac Brown Band for a string of arena shows. The experience was eye-opening, with large crowds rallying behind Holcomb’s cathartic choruses. “We were used to playing theaters,” he explains, “and that tour helped us realize that the size of the room is irrelevant if the band and the music are both right. With Strangers No More, we decided to strip away those limitations. We wanted to be more ambitious with our sound and get the audience on its feet when we play these songs live, without turning our back on the singer/songwriter fans.”
Strangers No More opens with ‘Fly’, a finger-picked folk song about the passage of time. It’s a gorgeous moment of reflection from a musician who’s learning to age gracefully, balancing the refined edge of his songwriting with a willingness to try new things. ‘All The Money in the World’, with its deep-pocketed groove that showcases The Neighbors’ musicality, is punctuated by blasts of brass, marking the band’s first song to feature horns. ‘That’s On You, That’s On Me’ makes room for barrelhouse piano, slide guitar, and the greasy grit of a juke joint rock band. ‘On a Roll’ and ‘Possibility’ are Springsteen-sized rock & roll melodramas that wail and exalt, their cinematic arrangements built for the large rooms that Holcomb regularly plays these days. Finally, there’s ‘Dance With Everybody’, a lively tribute to the live show that brims with a joyful optimism – a feeling that was often missing during the band’s earlier years, when their shows weren’t nearly as packed.
“I wrote ‘Dance With Everybody’ with [Old Crow Medicine Show frontman] Ketch Secor,” says Holcomb, who also penned songs with co-writers like Natalie Hemby, K.S. Rhoads, and Cooley. “It’s about our relationship with the audience. When we played it during our last tour, I jumped offstage into the audience every night and danced my way to the back of the room. The 30 year-old ‘serious songwriter’ version of me would never have done that, but the 40 year-old me says, ‘Why not? That’s what you’re really like. Embrace it.'”
Strangers No More offers an all-encompassing view not only of the places Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors have been, but where they’re headed next, too. From ageless folk music to atmospheric Americana to soulful rock & roll, the album marks an ambitious new chapter in the band’s story. Song by song, show by show, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors continue to invite us into their world. Strangers no more, indeed.
01. Fly (2:43)
02. Find Your People (3:14)
03. All the Money in The World (3:59)
04. Gratitude (4:35)
05. Troubles (3:37)
06. That’s on You, That’s on Me (3:09)
07. Dance With Everybody (3:30) feat. The National Parks
08. On a Roll (4.24)
09. Possibility (4:23)
10. Strange Feeling (3:36)
11. Free (Not Afraid to Die) (4:30)