Singer/songwriter Jerry Castle’s 2016 album, “Not So Soft Landing,” fits snugly in the “Americana” category. A down-the-middle mix of anthemic guitar rock and incisive acoustic ballads with just a hint of country, Castle’s songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place next to stuff by Jason Isbell or American Aquarium or Sturgill Simpson, all current leading-lights of the Americana scene. The album won Castle praise from tastemakers like Rolling Stone and No Depression, and the Nashville, Tennessee-based performer garnered himself a growing cult audience, as well.
So naturally, for the follow-up, he decided to go in a completely different direction.
“In Nashville, Americana is a lot more in vogue,” Castle says. “It’s much more acceptable now, and you have artists who end up having No. 1 songs on the radio. And when I very first started in Americana, that wasn’t the case. So this album was almost a rebellion to that. I wanted something new. I subscribe to the Neil Young kind of thinking where I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again; otherwise, why do it?”
The album Castle is talking about is called “Brand New Hello,” and it is, of all things, a concept album. The 14 songs tell the story of a disillusioned, divorced father of two who’s essentially lost everything. They follow the man as he becomes increasingly distraught in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and chronicle his impulsive decision to jump in the car with his kids, hit the road, and just keep driving. Eventually, he travels all the way to Costa Rica to begin a new life.
“The whole album was written from a storyboard situation before I even started to write the songs,” Castle says. “So writing it from that side of things was a different approach. And the music was written first as opposed to the lyrics, which was a brand new thing for me.”
This might read like a more radical change than it sounds like, because the music Castle is talking about is melodic and passionate, ranging from atmospheric rockers (the opening track, “Different”) to slow-burning, soulful ballads (“Watered Down Wine”) and a couple of tracks that would fit right in on modern country radio, like “Static of November” and “Lil Bit,” the album’s lead single.
In fact, “Lil Bit” was such an appealingly catchy song that Rolling Stone singled it out for glowing praise, placing it on its “Best Country Songs to Hear Right Now” list last summer.
“Castle’s frustration is our gain,” the review reads, “as he delivers one of the most instantly catchy – and danceable – songs about being pissed off this year.”
In short, Castle, who will play at Gottrocks in Greenville on Saturday, is perfectly fine with people enjoying the songs as much for their musical uplift as for the lyrical narrative, because he kind of planned it that way.
“I see the beauty in difficult situations,” he says. “If you’re talking about a sort of downtrodden subject, it’s important to see the beauty in it and to intentionally try to pick it up some. And also, I have to go out and support that record and play that record live, and I didn’t think with those types of subjects, you could have a ballad and have someone care enough to sit and listen to it. If you look at ‘Lil Bit,’ while it’s talking about this guy who’s run off to start a new life, which is a heavy topic, it’s very danceable at the same time. That song in particular was intended to be the positive side of what this dude had pulled off.”
What: Jerry Castle
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Where: Gottrocks, 200 Eisenhower Drive, Greenville
Info: 864-235-5519, http://www.gottrocksgreenville.com/