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A.H. Pettus Records the Soundtrack of Resilience

Steeped in emotional integrity and acoustic simplicity, A.H. Pettus' album How the West Was Once emerges as a captivating soundtrack for the heart's resilience. The album, recorded and produced entirely by Pettus in his modest home studio, is an autobiographical concept album of sorts, chronicling a man's struggle through divorce, loneliness, self-doubt, and redemption. Whatever the album lacks in high-end studio polish, it more than makes up for in authenticity, eschewing sonic perfection for emotional urgency. Primarily just a man and his guitar, the album showcases the Charlotte, N.C. native's earnest, fine-tuned voice, resulting in an enduringly soulful record.

Pettus sets the stage with the album's opener, "Of Love and War and Birth," a loping strummer befitting the cover art featuring a cowboy on his steed. Pettus' soothing vocals convey a sense of calm serenity amongst a vast western landscape, making the listener feel as if they, too, are on horseback astride the singer traversing this introspective journey through life's challenges.

The following track, "Have a Little Faith in Me," finds Pettus picking up the pace, detailing the heartbreak of his failed marriage. Beneath the surface, however, one wonders if Pettus is imploring this of his wife or, perhaps, himself, as themes of self-reflection abound throughout the album.

Standing out amongst this profound collection of tracks, "The Story of Buddy Lee" showcases a raucous edge, with distorted guitars and vocals reminiscent of the legendary Jim Morrison, one of Pettus' main influences. There's a profound darkness to this track, presenting Pettus not just as a musician but a seasoned storyteller of raw and gritty tales.

By contrast, 'We Were So Free' unravels as a poignant ballad, stripped to its core with haunting piano motifs enveloping the listener in the folds of reflection and yearning. This solemnity echoes Pettus's emotional expansiveness, offering a glimpse of vulnerability to which most listeners will relate.

The title track is a fun up-tempo toe-tapper featuring Pettus strumming and singing with a sense of joy and urgency that compels the listener to sing along. The infectious rhythm and undeniable groove provide a welcomed feel-good reprieve from an otherwise contemplative collection of songs.

In truth, the lack of a glossy studio finish serves as the album's strength. A.H. Pettus proves that the essence of musicianship lies in the ability to share one's soul with an audience, making How the West Was Once a compendium of human experiences that blossom, wilt, and eventually find their solace in growing anew. In its totality, Pettus' album is a triumph of authenticity over artifice, a testament to the stirring beauty that can emerge from the depths of personal struggle. Listeners are not just indulging in another studio recording but a shared human experience, a communion with an artist who turns adversity into art. How the West Was Once is more than just a collection of songs, but heartfelt stories of the human experience, resulting in a uniquely intimate listening experience that resonates long after the final strum fades.

Stream How the West Was Once on Spotify:

Reviewed by Michael Scanlon


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