When Ripley Johnson laments, “Fever broke, I won’t hurt anymore. I come home to stay,” on the opening track, “Silver Roses,” his delivery is quiet and understated, but the impact hits hard. Inside these soft, laid-back rooms, Johnson reminds us of the weight held by simple pleasures and familiar pathways. It’s not always about the road-less-traveled, sometimes it’s about finding the shortest distance between where we’re lost and the road home.
Much of what resonates the most about Johnson’s solo work is the feeling. Wild-eyed freedom loses some of its luster on the rippling “Lonely Places” as weariness morphs into longing for closeness and embrace. There’s a sprinkling of David Berman woven into the lyrics that cut deep. Musically, the song hints at so much of what makes Rose City Band so great; the ethereal country vibes of Barry Walker’s pedal steel, Ripley’s soft voice, and a fried solo to close things out.
Lowering the lights and slowing the tempo is when Earth Trip really takes off, though. The aforementioned “Silver Roses” runs a languid line through isolation and loneliness in the quiet search for contentment, Walker’s pedal steel notes crying sonic tears in the darkness. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. “Rabbit” has a gentle spirit, gliding into the cosmos searching for a birdseye view of damage spread in our collective wake below, observing and pondering, thinking about a different way. The glacial movements add a sense of reflection and grandeur, Johnson cooing, “Going down the rabbit’s hole, I can hardly see the sun,” in the search for something better, guitars layered to oblivion.
While there may be familiar touchpoints like Dylan, CCR, Allman Bros, and so on, Rose City Band takes them and beams them straight into the distant cosmos. Country-tinged melodies and songforms zone out in the otherworldly haze where the simple moments of existing in the world resonate the loudest. Ripley Johnson can damn sure write a great song, but even more so crafts an entire mood that envelops listeners in a placid, spacious cocoon. Walking down winding, maze-like aural canyons filled with fuzzed-out guitar solos and organ drones of closer “Dawn Patrol,” home isn’t really a place, but where one feels loved, seen, and free. Earth Trip traverses the stars only to come full circle, back into the bright, enchanting expanse of the open fields before us.
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