I’m not a typical country music fan ... which is not to say I’m not a fan, but rather that I don’t know a whole lot about the genre. But when I heard Josh Card’s new album, With a Heavy Heart, it struck something in me. The songs are bittersweet and personal, especially “Forgotten Love” in which, against a waltz, Card promises that “after 60 long years,” he’s never “done her wrong.” He then goes on to lament that he and his wife no longer seem to know one another, “before time came along and took you away.”
It’s a song that details his grandmother’s decline into dementia, a kind of leave-taking that’s more insidious than death.
“I wrote that song the morning of their 60th wedding anniversary,” he remembered. “I’d called my grandfather saying ‘I wanted to call and wish you guys a happy anniversary, and ask how’s she doing today.’”
In reply, his grandfather broke down and said, “She doesn’t know me today. I was really hoping she’d mentally be here with me today so we could celebrate this, but she’s not.”
The musician got off the phone and immediately wrote the song.
Card grew up on the “Jacksonville/Callahan border,” and was touring professionally by the time he was 17. Though his early career was defined by punk band affiliations (The Red Baron, Casey Jones and, more recently, Whitey Morgan & the 78s), he explained that he “learned to play a guitar over country music, and always wrote and sang old-style country-Western songs.”
Thus, though drawn to the energy and power of punk rock, it was to old favorites that he turned for solace when he found himself alone in a new place. (He’d moved to Kentucky for a career with Harley-Davidson).
Card continues, “The country music I grew up on was the music my dad and grandmother showed me, which was old artists like Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and David Alan Coe.”
When asked to define that idea of “traditional” country music, Card replied, “People go straight to what the radio calls country music, and that’s just not country music at all. The term has gotten super, super lost. In country, the substance of the song is what made it; real songs written by real people for real people; songs for the working man and woman. These days, as long as they mention something about a dirt road or pickup truck, they get away with calling it country music ... country music was never about a party, it was never party songs.”
But sometimes it is a party. In fact, this Friday, Nov. 9, Card is hosting a free album-release concert at The Jacksonville Landing, for all of NEFla. The Trey Tucker Band and Brother Jukebox are also on the bill. When asked why free, why Jacksonville, he recalled his years as a fledgling musician here.
“There used to be an old venue,” he explained, “called Thee Imperial [...] I grew up in that room. If it wasn’t for that room, I wouldn’t be out playing music now [...] I still have dreams of one day playing there again with my country band ... It’s a very, very sentimental place for a lot of us who grew up in town.”
That sentiment and a deep sincerity together form the foundation of his work as a musician and singer-songwriter.
In fact, he eventually bid farewell to the security that his lucrative Harley-Davidson day job offered him.
“I’d like to say it was courage, but I’ve got the blessing and the curse of feeling like what I do is the only option. I’ve always had this driving force to music ever since I was a child. It’s the only thing that has ever consistently made sense to me [...] I couldn’t escape it.”
In country circles, this sophomore album is being hailed as a worthy successor to 2017’s debut, Josh Card and the Restless Souls. Despite the praise, however, the singer remains grounded. He concentrates instead on process, and it’s a process that eschews rote songwriting for a more “natural” approach.
“I really don’t write unless I’ve got something to say,” said Card. “Most of my songs have come to me in one of two places: either driving or when I wake up in the mornings, songs come to me in the shower.”
Every step of his life has been bounded by music. He even walked away from a blossoming 9-to-5 career to pursue his craft. When asked about advice for other aspiring artists (of any discipline), Card said, “Don’t ever stop. You just can’t stop.”
Big-hearted and focused, Card wants the world to know: “With A Heavy Heart is my biggest release yet, and this is my chance to say ‘bring everyone you know and let me put on a show for you.’”