If we think of David Olney as a shapeshifter, our thinking is entirely incorrect.
Shapeshifters assume different forms. They are high-level impressionists.
Olney doesn’t change his appearance, he changes reality’s appearance. He changes the room, and the way we feel inside the room. He changes hearts, minds, and moods like the rest of us change bedsheets, only without the hassle of ill-fitted corners. His songs are marvels of surprise and delight.
“I like the ones where you take something in, and it’s suddenly more than you had assumed,” he says. “It’s like the plumber starts singing opera: You didn’t see it coming. There are very few encounters with art where a punch hasn’t been telegraphed.”
With Olney, we arrive expecting the unexpected and still wind up sucker-punched. The best advice is “Don’t try to fight it,” which is also the name of this extraordinary new collection of words, melody, rhythm, unreliable narrators, violent bluster, wistful introspection, freaks, liars, crooks, weirdos and lovers.
Those disparate elements and characters trekked from Nashville up to Ottawa, where producer Brock Zeman worked with them to create a new abnormal. Then Olney headed Great White Northward, to howl and croon and agitate.
By the time Don’t Try To Fight It crossed back through customs, it was an un-categorizable whirl of Olney’s influences and inspirations, including blues, rock ’n’ roll, Tin Pan Alley, folk,, depravity, aggression, belief, and, above all, empathy. The album is a window into one of music’s roundest talents: In addition to penning staggering songs, Olney is a Shakespearean actor, a writer of sonnets, and the host of Nashville radio station WXNA’s “Free Fall” show and of his own weekly video post, “You Never Know.”
Penned with co-conspirators John Hadley, Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Gwil Owen, and Richard Ferreira, Don’t Try To Fight It leads with “If They Ever Let Me Out,” a bruising portrait of a bruised ne’er do well. It careens through various environs, some warm and sustaining, some colder than Ottawa on a hard February morning, and all compelling. Olney has known these places, many of which he created and a few of which he inhabited. He was the discombobulated employee in “Situation,” a teenaged boy calling his boss to report a botched brush-burning expedition.
“We accidentally set the woods on fire,” Olney says. “I remember the conversation: ‘Mr. Malanie, maybe you ought to come up here, and maybe you better bring a fire truck.’”
He was also the hopeful young man in “Yesterday’s News,” a song he wrote forty years ago, in his early Music City days.
“I was writing about how thrilling it was to be in Nashville, trying to get songs out there,” says Olney, whose songs have gotten out there on his 26 acclaimed albums, and in versions by Emmylou Harris, Del McCoury, and Linda Ronstadt. “That feeling is still there for me: The feeling that something… some really good thing… is looming.”