He plays a CD-release show tonight at d.b.a. for his new break-up album.
If there’s a knock against Luke Winslow-King’s blues, is that they sometimes betray study carrel pallor. He’s adept at swinging, acoustic pre-war blues, but that facility comes with some clear deliberation. Sadly, it took divorce-level heartache for him to find the more organic and sometimes heavy version of the blues evident on I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, which is out today on Bloodshot Records.
Tonight Winslow-King will play an album release party at d.b.a., and despite the subject matter, a party is conceivable. The very short story is that he and wife/singing partner Esther Rose split and got divorced, and it doesn’t take a PhD to figure out how he feels about it or where the fault lies in his eyes. Despite that backstory, the songs don’t come from a blasted emotional landscape, and even at his most brooding, Winslow-King lets the words themselves do the hard emotional work. When he asks, “Did you change your mind about me?” he doesn’t do so with prosecutorial fervor or a wounded lover’s need to put it at the other’s feet. Instead, he seems to genuinely want to know what changed. He adopts a classic blues form and makes it pay off when he asks again and again, “Esther please, what’s wrong with you?” The repetition that often seems pro forma and distancing in some songs feels contemporary and gains bite when he uses her name.
It’s tempting to hear “Change Your Mind” and “Esther Please” as asking for answers, but you know he’s asked before. The songs that address her directly are part of something more subtle and complex. I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always presents Winslow-King as he tries to make peace with what happened, and he does so through artistic more than emotional catharsis. He fits his situation into a number of blues song styles and forms and gets control of his life by mapping it on to Clapton-like British blues invasion riffs, on to story songs, and Hank Williams-like meditations on her-having-fun-over-there and me-in-hell-over-here. The symmetry is painfully perfect. Their personal and professional lives intertwined when they were together, so it seems natural that they would as well as they split.
The album’s dominant mode is one of moving on, and while personally, that’s probably true—What choice does he have?—professionally, Winslow-King has committed himself to revisiting this story again and again for the next year or so. If he really wants answers, it’s possible that Esther’s singing them weekly somewhere on Frenchmen or St. Claude to whoever’s listening.