The new album from North Carolina roots songwriter Andy Ferrell, At Home and In Nashville, is aptly named, for it points to a long lineage of artists traveling between their homes in rural Appalachia and the neon lights of country music’s capitol, Nashville, Tennessee. Born in Boone, NC, Ferrell grew up in heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the birthplace of Appalachian traditional music and the home of the great Doc Watson. Growing up in Watson’s shadow, and with a folk guitarist for a father, Appalachian roots play a large role in Ferrell’s music. What’s surprising about his new album is how far he has reached beyond these roots. On this album he focuses on country songwriting with a bittersweet edge, much like his heroes Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. Recording the album between Nashville and Boone, he blends old-time roots and folk songwriting with a more polished country sound that verges at times on Paul Simon-esque balladry. Sweet pedal steel rings through his sound, mixed in with rich vocal harmonies and songs that look to the hard truths of a working man’s life as much as to the vagaries of love.
At Home and In Nashville takes its name from the split nature of the album, in which the first half was recorded in Nashville’s Quad Studios with a full band and the second half was recorded in front of a live audience at The Jones House in Boone, North Carolina. Both of these settings show a different side of Andy Ferrell. As a confident bandleader, his folk songs nestle deeply into country settings in the first half. From the rolling blues of the opening song to the dancehall swagger of “Nobody to Answer To” or the barroom balladry of “Photographs and Letters,” Ferrell’s songwriting blends easily with the polish of a band of Nashville session leaders. For the second half, Ferrell delves deeper into his Appalachian folk roots, seasoned with a pinch of Woody Guthrie populism. Highlights like “Run Billy Run,” a pitch-perfect take on the old outlaw songs, and “The Price of Freedom,” a sadly knowing story about an old drifter, show that Ferrell’s a folk songwriter with an uncanny eye for stories new and old.
There’s a sense of travel in Ferrell’s new album, not least for it having been made between two states. He’s the kind of artist that needs to be in a constant state of motion. “I almost always have to be traveling to write good songs,” Ferrell admits. “It doesn't matter where, anything other than being in the town I live in usually works.” Time spent travelling cross-country and to Mexico have been productive moments for him, birthing some of his best songs. As if flashing by the windows of a moving train, At Home and in Nashville tells the stories of lovers lost, places left behind, and brighter futures ahead. Ultimately, it’s the story of a young man coming into his own as a songwriter on the road of life.