Album Review

Joyce Luna: Every Road We Take

Joyce Luna - Every Road We Take

As Americana expands further into the 21st century, we oftentimes lose track of the purer foundations upon which this growingly experimental movement is laid upon. For a musical development blending the best of roots music—whether it be folk, country, bluegrass, blues, soul, or jazz—it's easy to see why modern acts so often feel hinged on finding new ways to innovate by tossing all of these influencers into a genre-blended smoothie. Plenty of times, it even pays off, but there's still something to be said for unpolluted folk music. Sometimes, a simple song structure with a clear message is all you need to win the ears and hearts of audiences everywhere.

Joyce Luna understands this. The sonic pathways that she paves through her newest album, Every Road We Take, do not have an ostentatious bone in their framework. Her music is poetry refined purely by heart, but entirely unadorned by compositional showboating. Following in the footsteps of artists like Joan Baez or James Taylor, every movement has a purpose, as well as a means to appeal that purpose to listeners in a succinct and evocative way. Your humble writer's city of Tucson has been lucky enough to glean this for some time now—the singer-songwriter has called the Old Pueblo her home for some years—and we are more than happy to finally share it with the world.

The twelve songs of which this album is comprised are all written by Luna, although these studio versions don't just feature her and her guitar. Rather, Luna collaborates with many of her Tucsonan contemporaries on Every Road We Take to bring it that extra mile. Co-produced alongside Ryan David Green (one half of popular folk-rock duo, Ryanhood), the album is lushly developed, with Luna's voice front-and-center amidst a well-balanced collection of acoustic instruments. Regardless of the exact format you are giving this album your attention through, each song sounds optimized and properly equipped to elucidate each passing piece of music as pristinely as the last.

That the sound is so well-engineered on Every Road We Take is a gift, considering how much each song is worth giving your clear, undivided attention. Straightaway, it becomes evident that this is unvarnished folk music of a rare breed. As the digital era ferries ever-forward, a more western-tinged brand of folksiness seems to be resilient towards the turn of time with the likes of Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst making their marks. Yet, for the even more upfront, understated, and conversational brand of contemporary "coffeeshop" folk that listeners have come to know from the likes of Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell, it seems like that edge of the modern Americana world has been receiving far less attention.

Albeit, there's an innate marketability here that seems to elude so many at the top of the charts, but is far more everlasting. Raw, heartful music will never lose its style like it'll never lose its sense of self. Luna's Every Road We Take is an underrated form of cool, embracing a form of sincerity and clarity that seems to evade many in our current songwriting landscape, no matter how much we can still appreciate the classic songwriters who started snowballing this sort-of musical movement 60 years ago.

This sincerity spans a multitude of meaningful subjects, too, mostly having to do with self-awareness and finding oneself in the midst of this wild rollercoaster that we call life. The titular opening track poses to us a universally relatable retrospective on the lives we've all led thus far. Here, she takes us on a tour through an ebb and flow of the good and the bad and all of the in-between, delivering constant truths that we so often forget in day-to-day life. It's a softly reassuring, emotionally moving track that sets the scene well for the remainder of the album and is very much worthy of sharing its title.

Songs existing within this same realm of contemporary folk pervade much of the album. Luna's knack for openhearted songwriting lends itself naturally to the human condition. Songs like "Choose" and "Trust" are as straightforward as their titles and effortlessly delivered, achingly human in both composition and delivery in a way that will inherently ensnare the hearts of listeners as they are offered a lens to look back on their own experiences. 

Luna's lively energy isn't only dedicated towards personal retrospectives, though. She has a knack for having fun, too, as evidenced on "Sip of Water" or singalong tunes like "Heaven (The Weather Channel Song)". These are songs that might not be the highlights of the album, but round it out with a dash of playfulness. Ultimately, they make Every Road We Take feel much more encompassing than it would be without them. For longtime fans of Luna's live performances, too, we all know that they sure are crowdpleasers worthy of a nod in the studio.

If Luna's album presented itself as a trifecta of folk song archetypes, the "personally relatable" and "fun-loving" sides of this pie have already been covered. Social activism remains at the heart of Americana at large, and wherein some dip away from these issues entirely, Luna steps forward without missing a beat.

"We Shall Be Seen" and "Affirmation (The NO Song)" wrap up Every Road We Take with two potent messages that have been all-too-relevant for all-too-long. Luna doesn't pull any punches in reminding us of the horrors that unfettered gun laws (or lack thereof) have wrought on the world with the former. Finishing with a chorus of voices (some of which are from EveryTown for Gun Safety), the song's message is potently delivered and possibly the most memorable track on the album. With the latter, she reminds us that we all have the power and the right to say "no" with a rallying call—another powerful message to hold onto in arduous times.

All in all, Every Road We Take is a well-rounded collection of songs with a refreshingly honest and straightforward artist at its center, and a phenomenal band of Tucson notables at her side. In just 12 songs, Luna reminds us to not embrace inaction in the face of injustice, to remember that we are all human, that our rougher roads will one day lead to smooth pavement, and that it's okay to have fun amidst that storm that is life. Even then, it doesn't meander. It doesn't try to change what doesn't need to be changed. It simply is. It has a heart, bare on Luna's sleeve, that everyone can find themselves in. That is more than enough.

The album can be purchased in digital and CD formats on Luna's official website, as well as Bandcamp. You can also stream it via Spotify.

For Tucson fans, make sure to catch Luna live at her album release show on June 23, at the Metropolitan Community Church Water of Life from 7:00pm - 9:00pm. The performance will feature a slew of special guests, including Michael Markowitz (mandolin, piano, guitar), Jim Lipson (percussion), Matt Bruner (guitars), Dan Kruse (drums), Rafael Montalvo Carruthers (bass), and Bea Velasquez (cello). The suggested door donation is $10-$20 - more if you can, less if you can't, and no one will be turned down for an inability to pay.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)