There’s a fascination with music-makers who go from creating behind the scenes to working in the spotlight, like Carole King, Bruno Mars, Chris Stapleton and so many others have. That strikes us as the natural progression for someone motivated by artistic vision, ego, ambition or any combination of the three. So we tend to be even more curious about those who are content to straddle the divide between keeping a relatively low profile as a songwriter-for-hire and seeking an audience of their own. Sia, for instance, crafts hits for others, but still craves a certain amount of anonymity in her own performing career. Native Alabamian Adam Hood has his own arrangement, which involves contributing to the catalogs of big-name country acts (Miranda Lambert‘s “Good Ol’ Days” and Little Big Town‘s “Front Porch Thing,” for instance) while taking a leaner, more low-key approach with his own output.
In the loping, reflective title track of his rewarding new album Somewhere In Between, Hood captures the contradictions in his professional outlook — his determination to be reliable even when he feels low on luck — with a card-playing metaphor. Over the course of 11 songs, he also teases out the tension that, for him, lies at the core of what it means to be a small-town, southern singer-songwriter: describing small displays of deliberateness in a thoroughly easygoing fashion.
During the spry country-soul number “Easy Way,” Hood’s supple phrasing and unfussy embellishments convey mellow understanding of his partner’s crushing responsibilities. “I don’t wanna add anything to what’s already been a long, hard day,” he begins soothingly. “I just wanna take some pressure off you and get a little bit off your plate / You take care of a lot of stuff nobody seems to appreciate.” He spends the chorus laying out plans for a relaxing night in. In “Downturn,” a hangdog country waltz, he’s instead the recipient of concern from a partner who recognizes how personal the work of music-making is and how wounding the setbacks can be. “I can tell by your eyes that you came to see if I’m alright, babe,” he reassures in a wilting drawl. “Well, I’m alright, babe.” During the swampy blues number “The Weekend,” Hood sings, with lazily swaggering syncopation, of the weekly two-day respite as a stabilizing, hard-earned reward.
When breakups are his subject, his protagonists see no use in living in denial. The guy whose friend moved in on his woman in “She Don’t Love Me No More,” a blues-bent southern rock song featuring Hood’s co-writer and kindred spirit Brent Cobb, complains of the blow to his pride, but relishes the knowledge that he has the means, and the stubborn self-preservation instinct, to start over elsewhere. In the jangly roots rock number “Keepin’ Me Here,” the guy who’s been left behind by a longtime love mourns the labor and commitment that went into building a life together: “They’re finally getting ‘round to fixing up downtown / Yeah, this is where you set your heart on settling down / I didn’t come this far to watch your taillights disappear / Now there ain’t much keeping me here.”
As laidback as Hood’s tone of voice and loose-limbed grooves tend to be, he’s gifted at illuminating the complexities of contentment, the choices that make up a life, especially one that moves at a slightly slower pace.