When Jason Eady began writing songs for his eighth album, To the Passage of Time, last year, he didn’t have a definitive narrative in mind. The Fort Worth resident hadn’t set out to craft a concept album, yet the follow-up to 2018’s excellent I Travel On has some clear themes.
The title of the new album almost gives it away, but the theme here goes much deeper than the simple ticking of the clock or turning of the calendar. Unlike much of what populates modern Top 40 country radio, To the Passage of Time refuses to serve up bite-size morsels designed for easy digestion. Now 46 years old (“My favorite age so far,” Eady says), the Air Force veteran and Mississippi native employs this album in order to appreciate and inquire. He’s interested in moments that may seem mundane at first but, in time, often prove to be dramatic tipping points.
Produced by Gordy Quist of Austin’s Band of Heathens, To the Passage of Time primarily consists of songs that began in Eady’s many notebooks full of ideas, including some introduced by notable songwriting friends Brent Cobb, Adam Hood, Jamie Lin Wilson, and Eady’s wife, Courtney Patton, who also contributed harmony vocals. Eady says there was a three-day period a year ago when he locked himself up, took his meals in his bedroom, and slept little while keeping pen to paper, fingers to guitar: “Once it all started coming out, I knew I needed to keep going until I finished.”
The album’s epic, heart-gripping centerpiece is the spoken-word epic “French Summer Sun,” cowritten with Drew Kennedy. The acoustic song’s narrator relates his family history, telling how his grandfather and father served in the military. The chorus swells as Eady sings, “And I come from a long line of soldiers / And their blood’s still flowin’ through me / They fought in fields in foreign lands / So I could be who I wanted to be.” This might sound like generic, feel-good patriotism, but “French Summer Sun” turns out to be something more interesting. The song goes on to ask how different things would be if one soldier hadn’t come home from serving overseas during World War II.
The song is inspired in part by Eady’s grandfather, James Sydney Vincent, who fought in Italy’s Battle of Anzio in 1944. More than 12,000 soldiers died as a result of that battle; Vincent made it back to the U.S. and started a family. When Eady visited that Italian beach a few years ago, he was shocked to see how small the battlefield was. If his grandfather had stood a few inches to either side at any moment, Eady thought, he wouldn’t have come home, and Eady himself would’ve never existed. The song ends on a dark note, imagining this alternate outcome.
Many of the songs here, refreshingly, do not provide predictable endings, let alone happy ones. There aren’t many attempts to solve life’s most confounding queries, although such questions are most certainly proffered. The stomping, shuffling, blues-tinted “Back to Normal” brings to mind the pandemic we still find ourselves in. When Eady wonders what we’ll all do “when we find ourselves out in the world again,” the question feels both timely and timeless. The lyrics are broad enough that the sentiment could apply to other life events as well, such as a breakup.
The soft yet galloping “These Things” presents a man laying his faults out in the open. He’s equally transparent about how those faults just aren’t going to trouble him too much right now, thank you very much, when he sings: “My words have caused more hurting than any thought of mine is worth and I’ll be damned if I say anything at all / And I push it to the back of my mind / Still it shows up from time to time / I don’t really know what that means, I don’t like to think about these things.” Eady’s whiskey-warm voice, which goes from low and rich to lonely and longing with impressive agility, could make anyone’s tale sound like that of a wise, poetic wanderer.
This predominantly acoustic album, perhaps better than any of Eady’s efforts from the past several years, showcases a blend of Eady’s blues-influenced early years as a performer and his more recent honky-tonk troubadour style. In the rustic, bluegrass-inflected “The Luxury of Dreaming,” Eady gently sings over a dobro, mandolin, and acoustic guitar about a single mother struggling through the day without ever being afforded the opportunity to look past the crisis immediately in front of her. In an almost wistfully sweet way, Eady sings, “Sometimes she looks out her window, wishes on the cars as they pass by.” The notion of a desperately overworked, under-supported mom looking to swap lives with a stranger is bleak. Yet the song doesn’t present its subject as a victim seeking pity. She’s a real woman, living an all-too-real life, which Eady details by singing, “Not a minute to herself, these days her only help is an oven mitt and a glass of wine.”
This heavy material is balanced out with levity in “Gainesville,” a jaunty, foot-tapping song about the freedom that comes with age and wisdom. Given that Eady has enjoyed his forties, it’s easy to hear he’s singing with a well-earned clarity about the difference between the victory of letting go and the defeat of giving up. A similar hands-off-the-wheel vibe can be found in “Possibilities.” With a fiddle dancing along, Eady sings about living in the present and being open to the mysteries of faith and what may be around the next corner. To the Passage of Time excels when its emphasis is on the open-road nature of life’s highways, not on the possible Instagram-worthy destination.
Along gorgeously wafting cries of a pedal steel guitar, Eady directs his words in the title track to Father Time, singing, “You scare me more than I thought you would, you make me see more than I thought I could / Some of it’s bad, some of it’s good, but I know it’s time to change.” The contemplative tune completes the album, but in staying true to Eady’s meditative tone, it refuses to thematically close the record in a convenient full-circle manner. Quite the opposite. “To The Passage of Time”—both the song and the album—fling the doors wide open, leaving the listener to draw their own conclusions.