The first witnesses to Samuels’ new beginnings fittingly became part of the sound of the album. During her darkest moments, while writing in isolation, her old friends in the band Bonny Light Horseman offered to take her out on tour in early 2020. “They re-contextualized music for me all over again,” she says. Observing a truly kind and compassionate music community brought Samuels out of herself even more. Inspired by conversations with producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, Cassandra Jenkins) on the road, Samuels took him up on his offer to produce her new songs and retreated to Isokon Studios in Woodstock, NY in the summer of 2021. They made the album as a duo, with Matt Barick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes) contributing drums on the entirety of the record. The result is a sonic template that ranges from the soaring and orchestral to the understated and confessional; at turns free-wheeling and filled with swagger then sincere and precise, with each subtle movement serving to highlight Samuels’ lyrical journeys.
As happens with albums that feel kinetic upon listening, the recording of Bystander with this skeleton crew of trusted friends served to underscore the questions Samuels had set out to answer when she began writing: “I had to ask myself ‘what are my values? What kind of people do I want around?”
In answering them, Samuels illuminates her path out of the wreckage. She doesn’t shy away from where she’s been but more importantly, over the course of these eleven elegiac poems set to a carefully curated symphony of tones, Samuels lets us know where she’s headed. Walking out of a thousand toxic conversations and away from a thousand false illusions, she’s stepping out into the street, with a glass raised for “whoever the fuck is left.” Listeners can count themselves among those being toasted; the lucky ones who get to greet Samuels and hear the tales of her reckoning.
released June 23, 2023
PRODUCED by Josh Kaufman
ENGINEERED, MIXED & MASTERED by D. James Goodwin
RECORDED at The Isokon in Woodstock, NY & The Bat House in Kingston, NY
PLAYERS: Johanna Samuels, Josh Kaufman, Matt Barrick
WITH: Adam Brisbin, Annie Nero, A.O. Gerber, Dan Knishkowy, Madison Cunningham, Phil Krohnengold, Steven Van Betten, Thomas Bartlett
ALBUM ART by Allyson Yarrow Pierce & Pear Juice Productions.
This is the most fantastic country indie music I have ever listen to since Emmylou Harris. I just can’t get enough of this. I think ‘chasing spirits’ is about the best country song I’ve ever heard in the last 10 years. Please put out more music! Wolfram123