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John Fullbright: How To Connect 'From The Ground Up'

Though he's not yet 25, Fullbright's music sounds like he's lived through a lot — or at least thought it through.
Vicki Farmer
Though he's not yet 25, Fullbright's music sounds like he's lived through a lot — or at least thought it through.

John Fullbright's voice rises up and around the guitar chords in "Me Wanting You," his tone intended to haunt the person he's addressing. His desire, his "me wanting you," is as direct as he can possibly make it — it's not a cry of despair or hope or lust. It's the sound of someone intent on making as strong a connection with the listener as he possibly can.

For a guy who's not yet 25, Fullbright sounds as though he's lived through a lot, or at least thought it through. Speaking in the voice of God in "Gawd Above," Fullbright doesn't seem like a callow youth overreaching for profundity. Here and in other songs on the appropriately titled From the Ground Up, Fullbright is building the foundation for his method: acoustic guitar and piano, mostly, with vocals that are conversationally inflected whenever they don't build into a strangled yowl. Occasionally, he'll work an actual hook into a song if it doesn't strike him as unseemly.

The limitation of sparsely arranged material like this is that it can rely too heavily on words, lyrics that don't hold up to close philosophical or metrical scrutiny. There's a bit of that here, most notably in Fullbright's game but thin variation on early-period Randy Newman called "Fat Man." And, speaking of Randy Newman, Fullbright could use more humor. But there's no doubt that he's an up-and-comer moving in the right direction; it's a good sign when you get 11 cuts into an album and the quality remains high, as it does with "Daydreamer."

There's an unassuming sureness to Fullbright's best songs. He's an Oklahoma kid who's not pushing his Okie authenticity down your ears. Instead, he already knows how to pull back, to establish a mood and then fill it in with details both verbal and musical that draw you into his world, and make you momentarily forget your own.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.