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A common man’s frustration

MUSIC | Oliver Anthony continues to defy conventional wisdom


Oliver Anthony Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A common man’s frustration
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FOR A WHILE, it seemed livestock farmer turned country singer Christopher Anthony Lunsford—better known as Oliver Anthony—would prove no more than a flash in the pan. No sooner had his awkward but earnest populist protest song “Rich Men North of Richmond” gone viral last summer and made him a cultural lightning rod than he vanished, his 15 minutes of fame having apparently ticked away.

It turns out Anthony was just resetting his clock, rerecording with the help of the Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb songs he’d written and posted to social media in demo form before most people knew who he was.

Hymnal of a Troubled Man’s Mind, his debut album, is the result. And while the title doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue, it’s in keeping with Anthony’s conventional-wisdom-­defying approach to his career so far.

He did not, for instance, release Hymnal on a label, major or otherwise, or even put his name on the cover. Neither did he release it on a Friday (the official day for springing new albums on the world), preferring Easter Sunday instead (“because,” he wrote on Facebook, “of the grace that has been afforded to us by Jesus as he took on the entire sin of the world”). Most unusual of all, he hasn’t included his hit. “While Richmond was the song that got my name out in the public,” he wrote (Facebook again), “these songs represent the true foundation of the music that got me through life up until now.”

Listeners will recognize in that foundation plenty of the sound and sensibility of “Richmond.” The sound: raw, anguished, resonator-guitar-­accompanied vocals thick with the kind of accent that you’d expect from someone who makes his home in Farmville, Va., (population 7,473) and whose go-to modifier is “damn.” (Cobb has added some fiddles and an occasional rhythm section too). The sensibility: a common man’s frustration at finding himself in a world indifferent to a common man’s frustrations.

“If it wasn’t for my old dogs and the good Lord,” Anthony sings in “I Want To Go Home,” “they’d have me strung up in the psych ward.” And written on a guitar on the cover: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

Such sentiments are pure “Richmond.” What’s new are the eight spoken Bible segues—five from Ecclesiastes, one from Proverbs, two from Matthew, and all from the “inclusive” NIV (you can’t win ’em all)—that recast Anthony’s songs as a sort of pilgrim’s progress. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” he recites. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

It’s a warning that both sheep and wolves would do well to heed.


Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.

@ArsenioOrteza

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