Evan Thomas Way’s career as the frontman for the Parson Red Heads has made the warmth of his voice synonymous with the band’s hope-filled songs. This is why his new solo record is a surprise. While maintaining the layered guitar harmonies and the gentleness of his voice, the songs on Long Distance are darker and more deeply personal. The songs were written throughout Evan’s life and recorded secretly as a gift for his wife. Evan is joined by The Phasers—Raymond Richards (who co-produced the record along with Evan and plays electric guitar and pedal steel), Adam Beam (drums), and Alex Chapman (bass), with support from Michael Blake (keys), Eric Earley (organ) and Ben Latimer (saxophone). The result is an album of astonishing intimacy.
The lyrics walk the line between dogged hope and the weariness of daily life. They are the stories of those who are torn between giving up and pressing on. The album resists providing a definitive answer. “Don’t fall away,” Evan encourages his listeners—“there’s a number on your life,” but later on the album he resigns himself to the realization that “all that was nonsense the moment I woke.” This honesty makes for an album of fragile transparency, giving space to the doubts that haunt us all.
The weight of these lyrics is buoyed by the album’s splendid music. The melodies are immediately approachable, some sounding like long-forgotten lullabies. Their simplicity is supported by the tight textures of the band. The guitar hooks are bright and layered with harmony. The organ and keys are rich in reverb. The organic textures of phasers provide a touch of psychedelic. Especially satisfying is when Ben Latimer’s saxophone winds its way around Evan’s falsetto in the songs “Gone” and “Change Your Mind.” The band’s self-described goal was “Neil Young by way of shoegaze.” It is asound they have mastered effortlessly.
Through both the honest emotions of an ordinary life and the comfort of melody and harmony, Evan has given his listeners an album with which to make sense of their own lives. His lyrics provide a voice for those who are hurting while his music is a comfort for those who are healing. Immediately accessible, yet unfolding the true strength of its songwriting and musicianship over subsequent listens, Long Distance is a small jewel.