Abney's sophomore effort comes two months after debut 

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In the span of about two months, John Calvin Abney has released two albums.

And they aren’t companion pieces, leftover B-sides, covers, different projects or one-off collaborations. They are two distinct solo records vigilantly conceived as separate entities.

The seven-song EP Empty Candles dropped in November, and full-length Better Luck will be celebrated during Sunday’s release show at The Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley Ave. The former is an Elliott Smith-inspired experiment with grunge folk, and the latter is a classically tinged alt-country affair.

Hard work isn’t unprecedented for this Oklahoma musician, who tirelessly pursued a degree in anthropology from the University of Oklahoma as he moonlighted almost every night at places like The Deli and as a sideman for everyone from Samantha Crain to John Moreland. But the songwriting boon is.

“It can be a grueling, nightmarish process sometimes, to work songs out, but if I wanted to write new songs, I was going to have to do it,” Abney said of the 18 months he spent slavishly devoted to writing more (and better) songs. “I couldn’t wait on anyone or anything to do it for me.”
He’s as electrified as ever, but the important part is how he’s learning to harness it. The longtime Norman resident now lives in Tulsa and focuses that energy into a more central artistic thought instead of creation for creation’s sake, unlike his early EPs, including 2012’s Without Wax and 2010’s Wish Alloy.

“I just hope those records disappear into the cosmos,” Abney said. “I had all the initiative and all the energy and all the execution, but I didn’t have the connection. I didn’t know myself well enough as an artist yet.” Abney credits burying himself in his work and friendships with musicians Moreland, Crain, Sean Barker, Bryon White, Kierston White and Penny Hill for his sense of self-discovery and becoming the artist he is supposed to be, not the one he thought he should be. “They taught me how to be myself. There’s no need to be anyone else,” he said. “I’m sinking into what I can do and not pushing to places that don’t fit me as a person or a musician.” Empty Candles and Better Luck were mined out of an emotionally raw period that saw his life and professional pursuits tumble, sublimated into that tireless work ethic with which he attacked each record.

“Everyone lives through their peaks and valleys. The past five years have been a crazy journey in a lot of ways. I’ve experienced a lot, and my life took a massive change,” Abney said. “I never thought I’d be doing music the way I am. It’s this constant sort of enigma that I can’t really explain.”

Better Luck was tracked in San Francisco studio Tiny Telephone with friends and collaborators Moreland and Kyle Reid and engineer Jacob Winik. The process for Empty Candles couldn’t have been more different, as Abney holed himself up in Norman spot

Breathing Rhythm Studio for eight straight days and mixed and tracked the whole affair himself.

“I created something all by myself,” Abney said. “It was a brand-new experience.”

Any stylistic divergence or difference in process can be tracked back to its classic American roots rock core, and though the winding path forward from here is still missing some of the signage, at least he knows he is pointed in the right direction.

Print headline: Best Luck, Celebrating his second album release in as many months, John Calvin Abney proves luck comes to those who work for it.


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Joshua Boydston

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