This morning I received an email from SRC Vinyl, indicating that my order was shipping. In and of itself, the fact that I’d be receiving a record via the mail was not any big deal. My collection, which I’ve mentioned here before, is fluctuating of late, but holding pretty strong around the 450 or so level, and my means of acquiring said records varies between picking up released from my local shop (shout out to Lunchbox Records in Charlotte!), pre-ordering directly from the artist and–more rarely–buying from online retailers that aren’t affiliated with the artists themselves, but generally work for the labels in some way or another. SRC isn’t one of my major go-to companies, but on occasion, they do run some limited edition stuff that I can’t ignore.
Such was the case with my most recent order, a copy of Dustin Kensrue’s 2007 solo debut Please Come Home, which had three things going for it: 1) this was a special edition, pink Breast Cancer Awareness printing, so part of my order went to a good cause, 2) to my knowledge, the album has only been pressed one other time on vinyl, back in 2012 via Enjoy the Ride Records (possibly a 5th anniversary pressing) and 3) it’s a really good album.
To put it lightly, Please Come Home is a departure from the music that Kensrue was putting out with Thrice, his “day job” band that is categorized by its heavier guitars, piercing drums and guttural vocals, whereas the music of Home feels more like a walk down a street in Nashville or New Orleans. Kensrue insures that there will be no confusion between his solo work and Thrice, as he sashays successfully between folk rock, blues and alt-country (think modern Johnny Cash) without much a hitch, as the album’s acoustic guitars, sparse production and brisk running time (it’s only 8 songs and a shade under 30 minutes in length) all make for a stellar listen.
The difference in styles allow for Kensrue’s strengths as a songwriter to take center stage, as he doesn’t have complex structures and layered instrumentation to cover up for lack of vocal skill or lyrical prowess, which isn’t to suggest this was a problem with Thrice, because it really wasn’t. In fact, I’d like to make the argument that it was the Thrice album before this (and the one that followed, to a lesser extent) that helped to shape the songwriter that Kensrue has become. Prior to 2005’s Vheissu, Thrice’s connections to traditional melodic music weren’t always the strongest, as they were a hardcore band by genre, but Kensrue was always adept at holding onto some melodic elements in the band’s sound. But Vheissu is the first Thrice record that I’d say has beautiful elements to it, both in terms of the instrumentation and the melodies; and while Home is gruff and intentionally low-fi (probably the first time Kensrue would center on a specific overall aural aesthetic, a theme of essentially every record he’s made since then), there is a thoughtfulness to the melodies on this record, likely because this is Kensrue playing a role of vulnerability that wasn’t required of him on Thrice songs.
Please Come Home is also the first of his more blatantly faith-based albums, which isn’t to say that the album is a so-called “Christian” record, just that he allowed himself to write songs that more obviously called upon his faith. Thrice albums were becoming more and more impacted by his growing faith, but this is likely the most outwardly Christian album besides his worship album, 2013’s The Water and the Blood, which sounds a lot like what Thrice would have sounded like if the lyrical direction of that band was different.
In other words, Please Come Home gave Kensrue an opportunity to try a few things out. So far as I know, nobody was pining for a solo album from the Thrice frontman, especially not one that likely didn’t appeal to a vast majority of his band’s fan base, and so the album was allowed to be a well-constructed and considerably thought-out test screening for what Kensrue would become. And over the years, he’s become more and more skilled at weaving all elements of his songwriting–the heavier side, the lighter side, the faith-based pieces and the secular elements–into one exceptional songwriter, something that has become more and more clear on subsequent releases (see, especially: Thrice’s Beggars, Major/Minor and To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere, along with his true follow-up to this album, 2015’s Carry the Fire).
All that followed, it could be argued, would not be possible if he hadn’t had the opportunity to experiment a little bit. And that, above all things, is what Please Come Home does best: it is contemplative and serene, a little snarky and raw, but also a truly great songwriter stretching his muscles. While it is tempting to look at the album as a blip on Kensrue’s storied career–mostly because of how sparse and quiet it is–this could not be further from the best means of looking at it. It was necessary, but it is also an expertly crafted and overlooked work of American music.