“Most music today is redundant. Once you have a sick beat and a catchy tune, it doesn’t matter what the lyrics are, people will find it ‘good’. I feel like the art of songwriting has been lost. This album is my stance to keep the art of songwriting alive. Sounds paired with carefully crafted words that can reach the soul, grab one’s emotion or paint a distant memory they once had. That, I believe, is good music.” So speaks Columbia’s Dell Castillo when we talked about his latest album From the Outside Looking In. The singer-songwriter traffics in a soulful kind of country/ Americana that fans of Chris Stapleton or Jason Isbell will recognize and his comments about lyrics and modern attitudes towards songwriting resonate with me. There has been a lot of talk recently about the “death of lyrics” in popular music and while I think the pallbearers are a little too eager to get to the funeral, there is a lot of truth there as well. Modern country to me stands as one of the most egregious offenders and the preponderance of farmed out songwriting, while ostensibly to help an artist have better lyrics/melodies, has the debilitating side effect of ruining any connection the listener might make between the singer and the song. In the annals of country music cover songs are a given, but the artists whose own lyrics gradually became keys that unlocked their personality were also the ones who became legendary. Mr. Castillo is in charge of his own destiny here, songwriting-wise, and his heart (and lyrics) are in the right place on this 10-song collection made with the help of Kenny McWilliams at Archer Avenue Studio.
The record starts with with “Under the Weather“, introspective country in the vein of Stapleton or Prine, with a nice ironic title/ chorus about how getting out of the house can be the mental pick-me-up we all need (“Homesick inside my own home/ is a reason for gettin out”). “Half Past Crazy” is straight-up Allman Brothers, upping the stakes to a backbeat filled with blues rock riffs. “Renaissance Woman” returns to country, but swaggering and modern, filled with a hard rock motif and cool little solo licks. “Go Easy” is a slide-filled ballad and “Look the Part” is traditional country, while “Blue Collar Black Tie” works itself on up in a western style in a quick two minutes. “Surefire” is another bluesy number and when Dell nudges the wheel of the heartbroken-drink-away-my-troubles vehicle into mainstream country fodder (“I’m gonna cure myself/ with a ten dollar bottle of wine”), his soulfulness detours around any clichés littering the road. “Mr. Right Away” has some of my favorite imagery and with its shuffling declaration of intending to spend as much time as possible with his significant other (“I don’t want to be Mr. right away/ working for the man every night and day/ I want to be just right”), Castillo works up a proper love song.
Dedicating yourself to lyricism can sometimes be a vain task if the singing can’t sell it but Dell Castillo had got that part covered. He has a convincing and soulful country croon, as modern as Chris Stapleton but recalling the vibrato of older greats like Randy Travis. I’m not certain if he is reproducing this full band sound in his live settings, so you might get a sound that’s a little more intimate if you go see him play around town. Either way, just listen to what this guy has to say and you will see that he isn’t joking around with his love for the craft of songwriting. It is, as he says, “good music”.
Recommended if you like: Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, John Mellencamp
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.