Out on The Line – The Blue Highways

Drawing in Springsteen influences, the second album by the London Lury siblings is a towering triumph that combines powerful driving rockers with emotion-drenched blue collar balladry on themes of love, loss, dreams, despair and the immigrant experience.

Out on The Line

The Blue Highways

  • Americana
  • Indie
  • Rock

  1. Don't Waste Your Prayers On Me
  2. Nobody Lives Here Anymore
  3. Rio Grande
  4. Running Out Of Time
  5. Don't Leave Me Alone
  6. Tonight
  7. What's A Man To Do
  8. Streetlights
  9. Land Of The Free
  10. Man With No Name
  11. Out On The Line

London's Lury brothers return with a second album of anthem-friendly Springsteen-fuelled rockers and ballads that deserves to make them major stars

If you were given this without any information, there’s times when you might think it was a bootleg of unreleased Springsteen numbers. Heck, even Bruce might. In fact it’s the stupendous second album from the North London based outfit comprised of the Lury brothers, singer and keyboardist Callum, guitarist Jack and drummer Theo who, along with the Boss also draw on such influence as Petty, Creedence, Gaslight Anthem and The Killers.

Essentially, tracing a theme of what Callum describes as “the enduring spirit of the individual…….the quest for family, home, love and meaning and not to give up however difficult that may be”, it’s divided between sweat-wringing rockers and heart-wringing ballads, the former getting things underway with the raspingly voiced, sparsely arranged ‘Don’t Waste Your Prayers On Me’, a song that, set at a funeral eulogy, touches on the wave of shooting and violence that comes almost totally devoid of hope in the face of political rhetoric:

Well you stand there on the stage and hang your head down low
Claim the world will heal and when the sun rises we’ll live in a better place tomorrow
But as you offer up all your solemn vows and condolences
I just hear lies or at best the echoes of empty promises

They say Jesus raised Lazarus from his eternal sleep
But I don’t see young men being brought back from these bloody streets
Well I’m scared, and tired and angry, but more than all the rest
I just wish that he was still here with life coursing through his beating chest

They then kick up the power with the stadium-aspiring, drums thundering ‘Nobody Lives Here Anymore’ that has the veins in the neck positively pulsing as it continues in a similar lyrical mood:

Blacked out windows Blinds are drawn
Hear the silence Flags lie torn
Big society Everything’s a lie
Emperor’s in no clothes
Praised from all sides
But when the lights go down
There’s nothing left for us in this town

Rio Grande’ brings piano into the mix for a midtempo widescreen ballad that, sung in the voice of a grieving wife and mother, sketches a Mexican tragedy but the line

We were just one family of a thousand ready to risk their lives
For the chance at an honest wage, a little hope, just a little more time
I’ll stay here and I’ll mourn, for the lives from which I’ve been torn

could apply to any refugee scenario.

The adrenaline is unleashed again on the driving ‘Running Out Of Time’ with its fusion of CCR and Springsteen at their electrifying best in a tale of alcoholism

you always told me
The drink was rotting me from the inside
But maybe this is all for the best kid
At least you won’t get any more calls in the middle of the night

And the lost dreams of youth:

I heard you had another son, well,
Boy you made it alright
I used to think maybe someday in some other place
If I were living some other kind of life
I’d have a wife and a family
A little place down by the coast
But instead it’s just me and that dark brown bottle
My father, son, my holy ghost

The longest cut at just over five minutes, another snapshot of lost dreams and despair, ‘Don’t Leave Me Alone’ is a slower, walking rhythm number with piano backing and gospel undertones that’s again sung in a female persona, here trapped in a life of domestic abuse she can’t walk away from:

He told me I’d never find another man
That I should be happy and just accept this life I have
Said he never meant to hurt me but he loved me so much
That it made him mad if I ever refused his touch
Well you still don’t seem to understand
Have you noticed how I flinch every time a man raises his hand.

And which comes with the chilling implication of suicide and filicide as the only way to be free:

I strapped my son into his seat
Drove into town, we went out for an ice cream
Oh that smile’s so full of wonder, so young and carefree
I hope someday that he’ll forgive me
I knew exactly what I was doing
I was totally in control
That ain’t to say that I don’t regret it
You don’t know what it’s like I just can’t leave him on his own

With its ethereal intro wash and piano hints, the album’s fulcrum is the fingerpicked acoustic love song ‘Tonight’, one of last year’s best singles, the simple lines

I’ll wear my suit you wear those boots
I’ll hold you tight we’ll just let loose
Tonight my love let’s go out dancing

just soaked in emotion.

The mood remains meditative for the slow building, soulful ‘What’s A Man To Do’ with its synthesised brass, soaring harmonies and hints of classic Atlantic soul as he spins a poignant story of a lonely man who find the possibility of romance when, at the circus, he’s approached by a woman he knows from the bar

He was nervous
It had been so long
Since a smile on a face
Had felt anything but wrong

Who takes his band, but he pulls back, still haunted by the voice of a lost love

He opened up his fingers
Like he didn’t have a choice
She watched him leave
Watched the back of his head
Sometimes saying what matters most
Is leaving it all unsaid.

Things pile back in for the gutsy rock and fierce guitars of ‘Streetlights’, a song about a father’s worry about his daughter being out late on the mean streets

So I sit by the window
And wait for the first sign that you’ve
Made it home alright
Don’t be late home tonight
And keep to the streetlights

The suggestion being that they’re foreign refugees from a more brutal state of racist police

If an officer stops you
I try to tell her be polite
Baby this is England
And that badge tells you they’re on your side
But she says dad how can I trust them
They can’t even see that they’re wrong
All the lies and the deception
I don’t feel like I belong.

It links thematically to the jangling guitars of ‘Land Of The Free’, again revolving around a parent-child dynamic, the setting transposed to America

We painted a flag in our kid’s bedroom
So she’d grow up believing in the red, white and blue

Only to prove another delusion as the lyrics reference to inscription on the Statue of Liberty

I am your tired, homeless, helpless poor
Why won’t you open up that golden door
Does she hold that torch to light the way
Or to guard against the forgotten and betrayed

Closing on another note of hopelessness and despair

Let’s just lie here dreaming
Of a place that we’ve never been
Clutching the pictures that they gave us
It’s as close as we’ll ever get to be
The land of the free

A photo opportunity for those with empty promises as it ends with the plea

Don’t forget about me
When the cameras leave

Enfolded in keyboard swirls, ‘Man With No Name’ is pure blue collar Bruce, again touching on the immigrant experience in the opening verse

I get up at six and I get home late
Work a twelve hour shift and I’m on minimum wage
I ain’t never been asked for my real name
Boy keep your head down do the job every day just the same
No-one even knows that I exist
Ain’t no hero in this story no sudden plot twist
Look in the mirror all I see is shame
I feel my father looking down and he feels the same
They call me the man with no name

As well as the lie of the Hollywood fairytale

I’ve got Nora Ephron posters up on all of my walls
Yeah the boy always gets the girl, love will conquer all
The best part is when it all seems lost
They always take a leap of faith, love at any cost
All I want is somebody to love
Someone to tell me who I am is more than enough
I’ve never wanted money, power or fame
Just someone who’ll help carry a little of this pain
They call me the man with no name

Like the mother in the previous song, death seems to be the only way out

Last night I couldn’t find one single reason to try
So I got my keys filled my car up and went out for a drive
I went faster and faster until I started to cry
Until I felt some part of me that didn’t want to die

Only to resign himself to living

One foot in front of the other, one step further each day.

It ends with the jangling, brushes snares title track, a resolve to not be crushed by the things you cannot control, and to put the past behind you and keep looking for that beacon in the darkness:

Maybe I can get it right
Settle down in a little house with a beautiful wife
Gonna try it one more time
Put it all out on the line

Let’s try this again
Take it all the way back to the beginning
Find somewhere that there’s no one around to judge
No one that hates me, no one that knows me, no one I used to love

They may wear their influences on their sleeve, but these are not borrowed clothes, just ones with a common tailor. The band I most want to see live and unquestionably one of my albums of the year; it should be one of yours too.