LOVE SONGS FOR LONERS
RELEASED OCTOBER 7, 2022
“Hell, I don’t know where I’m going in life, but I know where I’m going tonight” is a sentiment that Michael Paul Lawson has grown accustomed to. It also serves as the hook on the opening track of his latest LP, Love Songs For Loners, a collection of eight distinctive songs about drifters, eccentrics, and those who never quite found their place. Produced by Ken Coomer (Wilco, Will Hoge), Love Songs For Loners is swaggering yet subtle, toeing the line between classic country and the darker folk sound of his 2019 release Some Fights You’ll Never Win. Lawson stares down his own base instincts the way Raymond Carver might — with sparse, economical short stories tangled up in hopelessness and the last legs of youthful optimism.
With its focus on storytelling through characters, Love Songs For Loners hints at being a concept album without coming across as overly contrived. There’s a nod to the late Justin Townes Earle and John Prine, but it never once feels derivative; rather, it confirms Lawson’s place as one of the most promising artists working under the Americana banner today.
Lawson tapped Coomer — who had been interested in working with Lawson since 2018 — for production duties as well as handling percussion on the record. The studio band was rounded out by aces Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson, Drivin’ N Cryin’) on guitar and Billy Mercer (Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams) on bass. Working out of Coomer’s Cartoon Moon Recording Studio in East Nashville, the record was tracked in just over five days, capturing the live energy of the performances and evoking a warmth that recalls the sonic leanings of Wilco’s Being There. It’s a perfect compliment to Lawson’s flourishing baritone voice. He croons, twangs, growls, and shouts his way through Love Songs For Loners, always finding the right touch for each song.
There’s a natural tendency to associate country music with the south or with Texas. Lawson, who lives in Austin, holds true to these roots while simultaneously paying homage to where he grew up — Central New York. “When I started writing the songs for this record, I knew I wanted to make something reflecting the full-color palette of country music, from traditional to western swing to alt-country,” Lawson notes. “I wanted Love Songs For Loners to feel like the three places I’ve called home: New York, Virginia, and Texas.” Lawson deftly navigates the juxtaposition, blending alt-country and hill country twang with Mohawk Valley scenery — closing factories, townies, changing maple trees, and navigating I-90 in a whiteout blizzard.
These scenes, while not necessarily biographical in nature, are drawn from Lawson’s lived experiences. The son of two music teachers, Lawson’s parents divorced a few months after he was born. His father relocated to Texas and settled in Austin while Lawson remained with his mother in New York.
“As a child, I felt this connection to Texas because my father was there,” Lawson reflects. “I would visit Austin and then go back to New York and feel out of place.” But that Texas draw faded as Lawson’s relationship with his father soured.
After earning an MBA from Long Island University, Lawson made his way to Norfolk, VA, crediting the sleepy Atlantic town for igniting a spark within him that would become the music he’s creating today. In a twist of fate, Lawson found himself back in Austin recording his debut album and reconciling things with his father in the process, helping prompt a full-time move to Austin. Now, he returns with his sophomore effort, written and recorded on more certain footing. The resulting work is transportive — a showcase of Lawson the auteur.
Right from the opening count-in on “I Know Where I’m Going Tonight”, Lawson finds the peaks and valleys of human emotion and lays them out matter-of-factly. “I’ve been learning how to manage, how to mitigate the damage when nothing goes the way you planned it; oh, damn it all, Lucille,” Lawson sings on “Lucille,” an infectious heartland ripper that sticks in your head like an old flame. It all comes full circle on “Varick Street,” as the final lines of the record ring out over an acoustic guitar and the faint buzz of cicadas: “It’s so easy to dig up the past, so hard to love where you’re at, and no amount of living changes that … until you love what little bit you have.”
Love Songs for Loners spans time, place, and the full spectrum of the human experience across its succinct eight tracks. It’s a triumph of the spirit — a reflection on heartbreak, unmet expectations, and feeling out of place.
For Lawson, this new album is a culmination of over a decade of trying to figure it out — unfulfilling jobs, failed relationships, and his multiple moves around the country in search of anything that felt good. But it’s far from a “woe-is-me” saga; instead, Lawson strikes the tone of someone who has learned that joy and pain are invariably intertwined and that ultimately “there’s no love songs for loners.”
“Impressive…mixes elements of traditional country and darker, edgy folk that set the backdrop for each imagery-driven story-song.” — The Boot
“Lyrics evoke tried-and-true artists like John Prine as much as they do contemporaries like Jason Isbell.” — KUTX
“Dark and atmospheric Americana that challenges the usual ‘country’ tropes.” — The Big Takeover
“A hugely talented individual.” — Maverick Magazine