Red House Painters fans rejoice – another of the fellows has released a stunning bag of sadness and it is glorious! Heirlooms of August sounds just like the images its name evokes – hazy warmth, dusk and the regret of another season ending. Former RHP bassist and primary songwriter Jerry Vessel imbues the eleven songs on “Down at the 5-Star” with all of the hallmarks of weathered Americana: truck stops, dusty roads, and women who remain enigmas and forever just out of reach. Gorgeously produced by former American Music Clubber Bruce Kaphan, the album has an unrushed simplicity that reflects the concerns in Vessel’s lyrics. Almost Hemingway-esque in their simplicity, Vessel couches the emotion of his songs in lyrics that seem almost generic at first but reveal layers upon repeated listens.
And you will want to listen to this album more than once. Vessel’s voice lacks the character of former bandmate and label benefactor Mark Kozelek’s, but the music is sumptuous without being cloying and the lyrics are heartfelt enough that anything that could come off as overly maudlin or sappy is given some leeway. Kaphan’s pedal steel is all over this as well, weeping and sighing and adding emotional heft to Vessel’s songs. Vessel may have a difficult time stepping out of Kozelek’s shadow, but this is a great second step and it is the equal of many of his bandmates’ other efforts after the demise of the Painters. Small victories.