Americana songwriter Vince Vanguard longed to record and release a solo album for years. The irony here being he actually owned a recording studio and ran his own production company—his dream was literally at his fingertips. Sadly, he was a casualty of the musician’s overindulgent lifestyle. Today, Vince makes good on his artistic aspirations with the release of his debut full-length, Spirit Blues, a soulful folk and Americana album flush with personal revelation, hard truths, and fine songcraft.
“I talked about recording for years, but couldn’t make it happen until I made some important changes. “I guess I hid in that studio,” Vince admits. He continues: “These songs were written and recorded for me. I wasn’t trying to be commercially successful, or catch a certain group’s attention. They're all just my pain and existential rumination, and the need for their cathartic release.”
The 10-song album is a pure distillation of where Vince was at when he wrote the songs. Conceptually, this is a courageously confessional storyteller album with a well-thought-out song sequence that speaks to a dark victory. The final track, “Just So You Know,” was written after Vince got the help he needed to overcome his demons. His tuneful, hard-times Americana invites comparisons to Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, Derek and The Dominos, Grateful Dead, Little Feat, and The Band. The musicians joining Vince in the studio are Colorado-based A-list players including, Adam Deitch, drums (Lettuce, Break Science, John Scofield), Garret Sayers, bass (The Motet), Marcus Rezak, lead guitar (solo artist, Shred is Dead), and Bill McKay, organ (formerly of Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band), among others.
Vince grew up surrounded by music. His father was a blues fanatic, named his son after Eric Clapton (Vince’s birth name is Eric Plein), and took Vince to his first concert, BB King. “Blues music’s idea of the struggle of the spirit, and letting those feelings out always resonated with me,” Vince says. His dad also kept a bass sitting in his office, and the image of the old, cool-looking instrument made an indelible impression on the young boy. Vince’s uncle playing acoustic guitar and conducting family singalongs also had a profound effect on him growing up.
It seemed only natural Vince would explore music, and he took to playing in rock bands throughout high school, college, and beyond. However, he always found he was very self-conscious about songwriting, and needed booze to access his feelings and let go of his inhabitations. “For most of my life, I recorded ideas mumbling under my breath after I was good and lubricated,” Vince shares. “After getting my life together, I decided to finally record my story and my feelings. I did this for my own healing, but I hope my experiences connect with and comfort others going through similar things,” Vince says.
At its core, Spirit Blues is just Vince’s sweetly weary vocals and his folkie acoustic guitar playing, but, at times, this essentialized presentation is thoughtfully enhanced by additional instrumentation such as organ, clean melodic guitars, piano, harmony vocals, lap steel, and a rhythm section. Thematically, Spirit Blues grapples with a journey of addiction, but the lyrics are universal—this isn’t a detailed sobriety travelogue.
The album opens with hope on the organ-kissed folk song, “Bound For Glory,” a song about casting aside self-sabotage tendencies to reach your full potential. Vince pens a powerful historical storyteller piece on “Levon Jackson,” using allegory, metaphor, and impressionistic lyrics for a transporting Southern rock track with some rich substance. The track “Atlas” explores ego battles and self-identity within a hard-living, hook-laden grunge tune that recalls 1990s Seattle. The standout, “Broken Bones,” boasts an inviting opening hook, an instantly familiar chorus, and the recording features most of the album’s A-list roster. This is the closest Vince gets to social commentary, and it speaks to a level of hopelessness we all feel. The lyrics also teem with oblique twists and references to other artists and double-meaning ideas. One powerful passage reads: Twists and turns/Blurring all the lines we’ve drawn/Breaking free/From haunted stories that we wrote.
The moody and reflective ballad, “Samsara,” explores the Buddhist concept of suffering inherent in the endless cycle of life and death. The song’s message encourages the listener to appreciate beauty and pain at the same time. The lonesome country ballad “Just So You Know” was written during Vince’s early days of recovery, and it is a eulogy to Vince’s relationship with alcohol. Here, he sings: Just so you know/I’m letting you go/To find a better life on the other side.
Today, Vince is enjoying a busy and meaningful life filled with many endeavors outside of music. Spirit Blues snapshots the crossroads moment before Vince found his way forward, and it will remain a powerful reminder of a transformative time. Reflecting back on it all, Vince says: “I needed to get these songs off my chest to break ties with my past. Now, I feel like I can move on.”