Hear Me Out finds Murray A. Lightburn sounding comfortable and content as both artist and family man.
As I sat down to read the final chapters of Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), the autobiography from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, while simultaneously giving a first listen to Hear Me Out, the latest solo album from the Dears’ Murray A. Lightburn, I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels. Both men serve as visionary leads in their respective bands: chief songwriters, principal vocalists, and public spokesperson. In the privacy of their personal life, each share parenting responsibilities for two children with their life partners. Both Tweedy and Lightburn are rock dads whose music is anything but dad-rock. Most vitally, though, both men are openly vulnerable artists unafraid to explore what it means to simultaneously be an artist, a parent, a partner, and a functioning member of society.
Hear Me Out is only the second time in the Dears’ twenty-five year musical career that Lightburn has stepped out from behind the band moniker to make music under his own name. The first, 2013’s Mass:Light, a synth-based cinematic concept that allowed Lightburn to explore musical ideas outside of the indie rock universe in which the Dears orbit. Hear Me Out sticks closer to home. “I Give Up” is a sumptuous old-school crooner about “surrendering completely to a relationship” and tumbling head-first into love. He doesn’t have to name his musical and life partner Natalia Yanchak in the song for us to understand that it’s inspired by their relationship. Regardless of the song’s autobiographical nature, Lightburn’s delivery, a mix of 50s pop cool and indie rock vulnerability, makes “I Give Up” a universal anthem that will resonate with anyone who has concurrently known the fear and joy of falling hopelessly in love. “Centre of My Universe” follows a similar musical and lyrical trajectory; the loungey vibes of “Changed My Ways” finds Lightburn sounding comfortable and (dare I say) content as both artist and family man.
Lightburn’s trademark dry, self-deprecating wit, so prominent on the best Dears music, pops up on “Fan Fiction (Ballad of a Genius”). It opens with the cheeky line “Once I was a genius / and documented as such,” before closing with the sobering realization that “Everyone simply wants something / It’s probably why I’ve got no friends / Cos if I give in to them that will surely keep them coming / Til they’ve had enough”. Masking the sentiment as fiction doesn’t diminish the song’s core tenet: no matter your public profession — be it songwriter, bricklayer, or earwax candle maker — we each have a finite amount of time, attention, and energy to devote to relationships. The struggle everyone faces, as Lightburn so pointedly states, is deciding what’s a better return on our investment: giving time to the extraneous “poltroons” we surround ourselves with, or circling the wagons and focusing on the relationships that matter.
Jeff Tweedy writes he never imagined finding something or someone he loved more than music until he had a family. I’m positive Murray Lightburn would concur. For all the rich sounds on the superbly arranged songs on Hear Me Out, for Lightburn — as for anyone — there’s likely no sweeter sound than the front door closing and hearing someone say “Honey, I’m home.”