Roy Peak’s album All is Well immediately won a place in my heart for two reasons. First because “all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things will be well,” -a saying of Julian of Norwich- is a personal mantra for bad times and second because on the bottom left, inside the cover is the silhouette of a raven. So I had a good vibe before I even started listening. And the album does not disappoint.
Roy’s album is (like the cover which pictures birds against a cloudy black and white sky) a mixture of light and dark. The jangling guitar is sometimes exhilarating but it is always juxtaposed with the dark lyrics and growling vocals. The twelve songs on the album are expressions of pain, longing and isolation, but all are infused with a sly, black sense of humor and just an occasional glimmer of hope.
The album is described on Roy's website as “a punkish folk-rock tromp through twelve songs about love, death, and birds.” Both the folk-rock and punk traditions fuse to produce an album that is forthright and honest both musically and emotionally. There are even hints of some even older forms of straightforward music traditions; “Black River” reads like a modern ballad and the title track “All is Well” almost sounds like a hymn to a bad relationship with Death.
The songs range from the tender and somewhat hopeful “Teach Me”, with its intimate guitar and gentle lyrics
We looked at the future
But we only saw the stars
Oh baby what will it be like
When the whole world is ours
to the driving and pessimistic, but still funny, “Mean Girl Blues”, which recounts the narrator’s abusive but obsessive relationship.
Washes the dishes and fixes a drink
Leaves her panties in the kitchen sink
I think I'm starting to believe her lies
She once kissed a man just to watch him die
All of the tracks are narrative and personal. A sense of lost history pervades “Okolona;” “Ohio” tells the tale of a screwed up relationship that’s so painful that it makes a whole state off limits; “It’s Better to Be the Bride” gives the listener a keen sense of the humiliation and worthlessness of being tossed aside. A personal favorite of mine is the track “Somewhere in the Distance” in which the significance of birds clinging to their branches and refusing to fly brings loneliness and separation into sharp focus. The concrete lyrical details draw the listener inside the circle of sorrow.
The album is a tribute to the tragedy of life and love and I think it can be summed up by these lyrics from the title track, “All is Well”.
I know you love me but let me go
There’s so much more that you should know
And then she kissed me for the last time
Then Death walked away from me
And as far as she’s concerned
She’ll never—never come back
But I know all is well
Cuz I won’t live forever
Yeah I know all is well
Birds, the devil, mean girls, and inhospitable death add up to good album for a hard day. Check it out.