The album opens with “Fools Gold,” a song about false hope and the devastating effect it can have on a life. “Building bridges ain't the hardest part, he explains in his world-weary voice, “Its trying to swim once they fall apart.” “Drown” manages to capture the best and bleakest moments Springsteen's “The River,” “Atlantic City” and “Dancing in the Dark.” “Drown” manages to pack childhood poverty, the death of a mother, an ill fated strike and a murder into four minutes and nineteen seconds without ever being maudlin or falling into cliches. “We care more for the ones we've lost than for the ones that we have now,” he muses quietly on “Sunset, Regret.” “Goodbye Ghost” opens with a snarling electric guitar, which are soon joined by the backwoods melancholy of a fiddle, banjo and mandolin. The effect is fittingly haunting as he wails his way through this song about the brokenness of lost love. “Four Winds” is a mush more simple ballad, a straight forward rocker with a few delicious country flourishes. “Louisiana” comes across almost like the untold side of Springsteen's “Hungry Heart,” the story of a man caught up and tossed down by a woman. “Two years later he got a call she served her time and now was free, she was rambling about the sweet water blues but had a bone to pick with me,” he sings in epilogue. “I'll sober up the preacher, Lord, I think he's stoned,” he moans on Baltimore. This gospel-lite tune both criticizes the hipocracy of and embraces the hop found in religion, or at least the sort of religion desperately sought after by lonely denizens in cheap motels. The best track on the album, by a very narrow margin, is the sweeping and gorgeous “Red Dress.” It is one of those urgent, love at first sight ballads set over a heady mix of blues rock guitar and harmonica and string back country fiddle, mandolin and banjo. “I ain't saying I didn't learn a thing or two, but learning will only get you so far, and you don't know nothing 'til you're black and blue,” Gripka jokes on the bluesy “Black and Blue.” Bellwether Ballad is a quiet and simple, country song with a seventies vibe that would not sound out of place on a radio station next to Kristofferson and Nelson. “My mother's praying that my soul He'll take, I hope it gets me through the night.” Israel Nash Gripka's voice soars up into a lovely falsetto, reminiscent of Ryan Adams' country work for the haunting and melancholy lyrics of the closing track “Antebellum.”
At its heart, the best Americana perfectly fuses country, folk rock and blues. It was at the heart of the genre, and the music that propelled the genre forward. Even before Americana, it was the music that made artists like Bruce Springsteen and Waylon Jennings so compelling—the ability to pull the from each genre the emotion it best covers and weave them together into a life story. Israel Nash Gripka is a true Americana artist, a surfer of genres who borrows what he needs from each and fuses them into a better, stronger whole. Barn Doors and Concrete Floors is an album of incredible stories, with impeccably built melodies that serve to enhance the tale. It is the perfect album to put on when you put the top down and drive the back roads to enjoy the encroaching summer.