There is a certain charm to homespun balladry. Just look at the meteoric rise of Bon Iver, who connects to the listener with simple, acoustic guitar strums and breathy vocals that spin tales of heartbreak. Jon Patrick Penick’s The October Hours is cut from this cloth. His voice never rises to Justin Vernon’s soaring falsetto; instead, he cultivates a bedside whisper that reflects the autumn air’s crisp romanticism.
Little is known of Jon Patrick Penick other than the fact that he’s a Chicago-based songwriter. This lack of backstory fits lyrics like, “I got a secret I don’t want to show” on the paranoid “Secrets”. Penick’s closest contemporary peer is perhaps Lancaster, PA’s Denison Witmer, whose voice also echoes Jackson Browne and whose lyric sheets similarly read like pages ripped from a journal. This level of intimacy works for Witmer, but more often than not Penick generalizes moments and feelings, rendering them to songwriting clichés.
There are just one too many easy rhymes and lyrics about falling for you, fading away, and in my mind. It hurts the overall appeal of the album when the listener cant peel back the curtains and truly experience the vulnerability found on those classic singer-songwriter albums. The emotional wallop Dylan conveyed on Blood on the Tracks was so vivid that you felt like you just broke up with your former Playboy model wife, too. Here, you just know that something wonderful or terrible might be happening, but you’re a safe distance away from the destruction.
Penick comes into his own in balladeer mode, painting a scene like the gently plucked Cheap Dose of Life, when he sings about a lonely light from a candle sitting bedside. Yet again, the track starts strong before drifting into generalities about reflections in the mirror.
Regardless of the somewhat pedestrian lyrics on The October Hours, Penick still manages to create a mood that flickers like that lonely candle light.
Essential Tracks: Cheap Dose of Life