John Anderson has had a difficult couple of years, and his new ten-track album “Years,” both documents the many challenges he has faced and speaks to his hope for the future. Anderson, who has spent the past couple of years recovering from numerous serious illnesses, released “Years” as his first studio album since 2015. A member of the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame, Anderson enjoyed a country music career lasting over forty years and was a staple of the charts in the early 1980s, putting out classics such as “Wild and Blue” (1982) and “Swingin’” (1982).
Anderson had a second resurgence both in popularity and chart success in the 1990s, most notably with “Seminole Wind” (1992) and its follow-up, “Straight Tequila Night.”
Anderson performed steadily throughout the 2000s, headlining major country festivals throughout the states and churning out decent albums such as Easy Money (2007) and Goldmine (2015). In August 2017, Anderson’s career had to be suspended when he faced major health issues that forced him to cancel tour dates and spend time in the hospital for treatment. Anderson has not elaborated in great detail publicly, but the illnesses apparently necessitated medical treatments throughout 2017 and 2018, and long, challenging stints in the hospital. During this time, Anderson also experienced nearly 100% hearing loss—an occurrence that would devastate most people—especially a musician such as Anderson. But with the support of his family, Anderson fought his way back. Anderson, a Christian, told Billboard last month about his experience trying to recover in the hospital: “As long as a person has faith, there’s always hope, but if you lose your faith, there is no hope.” After months of treatment and recovery, Anderson was discharged from the hospital in 2018, and his hearing began to gradually return. During this time, Anderson recommenced work on songs for the “Years” album, which he had begun developing before the onset of his illness. However, this time the album took a new direction: one that would directly confront notions of mortality and pain and reflect a rededication and renewed love for life. Roughly eighteen months after his return home, Anderson linked up with Dan Auerbach (lead singer and guitarist of the Black Keys) and got in the studio in Nashville with him, where they recorded several songs together. Their studio chemistry was strong, and despite Anderson’s still limited hearing, Auerbach told the Tennessean, "As soon as we started and [Anderson] started singing, he was perfectly on pitch.” Soon, the two began talking about cutting songs for the album, and Auerbach enlisted his friend and renowned recording engineer, David Ferguson, to help produce the record.
Across several days in the studio in 2018, Anderson returned to the microphone, telling stories of survival, healing, and resilience: the stories that had defined the previous years of his life and left an indelible mark on his future. The album’s title track, “Years,” is perhaps the best illustration of Anderson’s current reflections. In the song, Anderson sings:
Don't look back in sorrow Just hope you see tomorrow Those years Everybody knows You gotta’ let 'em go And they kinda’ roll by Like tears Just a measure of time Playin' with your mind Passin' you by Those years
Indeed, John Anderson’s album is full of lyrical gems characterized by gentle mortal contemplation and uplifting stories of perseverance. The first track on the album, “I’m Still Hangin’ On” is a great example of the kind of tenacity Anderson expresses throughout the album. Told from the perspective of a military veteran who bears a metaphorical resemblance to John Anderson, we get cheeky lines such as, “There were people placin’ bets / that I’d be dead and gone / Oh, but I’m still hangin’ on.”
Another excellent uplifting song on the album is “Celebrate.” In this song, Anderson directly reflects on the years he has spent touring and traveling to towns across America to share his music. Anderson acknowledges the “good and bad times” but assures his listener that he “knows [he’s] been blessed” and he will always find “some way” to “stop to celebrate” the time he’s been given here, and the graces God has bestowed upon him. “Celebrate” is ultimately a song of spiritual gratitude and joy, and it seems to embody much of Anderson’s ethos as of late. He seems thankful to be alive, grateful for the wonderful memories he has been able to make over the years, and still excited for the times ahead.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Anderson was very active, joining Blake Shelton on tour in early 2020. In fact, the album features a collaboration with Shelton called “Tuesday I’ll Be Gone,” my personal favorite on the album. The song opens with the mesmerizing image, “Sometimes a man just needs to be alone / Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway to the sky.” It feels like the soundtrack to David Hopper and Peter Fonda’s film 1969 film Easy Rider. Anderson’s smooth baritone, gentle pedal steel, and Southern blues keys lull you into a state of tranquility and bliss.
Overall, there is a lot to like on this new album from John Anderson. The album feels earnest and mature: from instrumentation to lyrics and vocals, each component of the album appears delicately crafted and feels synchronous. It is a wonderful record for Anderson to return to music with, and having weathered extensive hospital stays and fought off serious illness, Anderson should feel proud. This accomplishment doesn’t appear lost on Anderson, who told Rolling Stone, “Working with [Auerbach] and working through the tracks on these songs and writing these songs originally was maybe one of my biggest accomplishments in my career after what I’d been through.” Certainly the hard work and consistency comes across on Anderson’s new album, and it is well worth listening to this weekend.
Written by Brennan White