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"Oh, this life, it's the hardest thing anyone can do / But even when it brings me down, it's still beautiful"

Love Is Weird, the newest release from songwriter Brian Paddock, is amplified Americana at its most heart-wrenchingly honest. Written alone and recorded with his Knoxville-based band, Brian Paddock & the American Gentlemen, these 10 songs fire twin barrels of melody and guitar-driven muscle, with Paddock taking inspiration from Neil Young, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and other heartland heroes. Along the way, he also shines a light on his own struggles, turning the most difficult season of his life — a period that included a death in the family, a cancer diagnosis, and the breakup of his former band — into an album about maintaining hope in the face of ongoing obstacles.

It wasn't always so easy to look on the bright side. Back in May 2018, Paddock was busy caring for his sick mother when he received more jarring news: he had cancer. As he underwent surgery and began receiving radiation treatments, his mother's condition worsened, requiring her to spend her final months in hospice. Meanwhile, another family member died of a heart attack, while his band of the previous four years — hometown heroes Shimmy and the Burns, whose three releases had afforded Paddock the chance to sharpen his songwriting and hone his warm, rusty-throated vocals — called it quits. Paddock was despondent, struggling to maintain a positive outlook.

 Then, he turned to music for help. Mixing several newly-written originals with a handful of songs he'd written before 2018, Paddock pieced together his solo debut, Under New Management. When the time came to support the record with an album release show, he opened for local heroes the Black Lillies, assembling a top-notch band for the gig. Playing with this new group of musicians felt natural, and as the months progressed, Paddock began bringing new songs to band practice. Those songs — not to mention those new musicians — form the bedrock of Love Is Weird, an album that finds Paddock merging his singer/songwriter sensibilities with the sympathetic stomp of a full band.

 Produced by bandmate John Baker, Love Is Weird sets Paddock's autobiographic lyrics to a soundtrack of 12-string guitar, Hammond organ, slide solos, big melodies, hot-to-the-touch amplifiers, and even the occasional fiddle. Some tracks are reworked versions of songs he originally performed with Shimmy and the Burns; others are fresh compositions that deal with death, drinking, and the hope that binds us together in harder times. On "Glory Days," Paddock gives himself a musical pep talk, finding a balance between his career goals, personal insecurities, and the musical drive he'll never be able to shake. A similar theme underscores the album's kickoff track, "Still Beautiful," which finds the frontman refusing to be overtaken by his struggles.

 With 2019's Love Is Weird, Paddock finds the equilibrium that seemed so elusive during the previous year. It's a record borne of hardship, yet filled with accessible songs that root themselves in singalong hooks. And while these songs all feature contributions from the American Gentlemen band, they're grounded in the same craft that fills Paddock's solo work, allowing them to still pack a poignant punch whenever they're performed during his one-man acoustic tours. Inspired by challenge, Love Is Weird is the most anthemic release of Brian Paddock's career — proof that even in the darkest of times, a skilled songwriter will make his own light.   -Andrew Leahey

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