Passenger – Runaway (Album Review)

Mike Rosenberg, better known by his stage name Passenger, has flown home on his latest album, Runaway, or at least to a part of his upbringing where he spent summers in America. Set to drop on Friday, August 31, 2018 via Nettwerk Records, the album takes an Americana vibe, embracing a country he grew to love as a child, painting a picture with words and music.

A follow-up to 2017’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf and 2016’s Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea, Passenger winds his world back to the UK and Australia where Runaway was recorded. Produced by Chris Vallejo, and Passenger himself, this album takes a step back into a deeper level of introspection.

Flavored by the expansive landscape of Americana, the ten songs are coupled with ten live recordings of the tracks captured as Passenger was traveling across America. Finding the Tom Waits in his soul, a music video was filmed in national parks across America, highlighting each real or imagined place in this traveler’s dreams.

In this lush lyrical soundscape is an array of instrumentation that includes lap steel, a sprinkling of banjo, and elegant mandolin all from Guitarist Benjamin Edgar, Bassist Rob Calder, Drummer Peter Marin, and Keyboard Player Jon Hansen who join Rosenberg on Runaway. So, are you ready to come along for the ride? 

Many listeners are familiar with some aspects of Passenger as a musician, but stylistically Runaway is a new twist on familiar talents. On his ninth studio album, often lush instrumentation is connected to lyrics that are connected to his authentic soul as a songwriter. Wrapped with guitar as connective tissue, there is no breaking free. Haunting vocal delivery aches like flickers of firelight around a campfire punctuated with banjo and violin. In reverse order on the live cuts, each is stripped bare, raw, and even more vulnerable as if the man were slicing out his soul for all to hear.

Setting the stage is “Hell Or High Water,” a song that already has over 4 million views on YouTube. Moving forward, this is a road trip guided by Passenger, a wagonmaster troubadour wondering about himself on the song “Why Can’t I Change.” On Runaway, he continues to mirror nearly everyone’s reality, a fact that makes him and his music even more accessible. Rolling in with an easy tempo, a prime example of such is “Heart To Love,” a love song that anyone can connect with. 

A great songwriter connects with imagery that paints a picture many can to relate to no matter the genre. Passenger is one of his generation’s greats, and if there were any doubt, “Let’s Go” proves it. There is a connection here regardless of where a listener is from. Tripping into “He Loves You Cold,” with fantastic banjo from Edgar setting the pace, you can almost feel the temperature drop. How many of us have been on one side or the other of this uncomfortable reality, wanting to face reality and walk toward a warmer truth for the heart?

Over halfway through Runaway, “Ghost Town” is a resting point. Considerably slower in tempo, each nuance of vocal delivery is packed with emotion in contradiction to the stark nature of the song. Then, with a rush of life, the title cut “Runaway” hits the road again. It is an embrace of possibility while each bit of hope for the future comes out in every breathy lyric.

Coming to a close of the studio recordings, “Eagle Bear Buffalo” is a reminder of Mike Rosenberg’s deep love for America, even though he is a British citizen. Majestic, this track grabs a hold of the open spaces of Yellowstone; the place lives in his soul as it does in anyone who has ever been there. Soaring with “To Be Free,” keystrokes of a plaintive piano begin this self-reflection that is an autobiography of sorts. A true stunner, this musical feather floats in with clarity and simplicity. Closing out the studio half of the album with “Survivors,” at least one thing is clear, the path that lay ahead is always connected to the dust left behind. At least that resonates on Runaway with its beefy ten studio versions and ten live records of the same songs that follow. 

Inviting listeners to join him around the campfire on ten live stripped acoustic tracks that wrap Runaway, this album creates an intimacy that is raw, authentic, and often A cappella genius. Truly stunning recording allows each note to ring clear and bright. Great storytellers make the best songwriters, and sometimes those songwriters find a way to connect with musical talent. Fans can decide for themselves with YouTube videos that are coupled with each live track. Filmed along an Americana backdrop often inspired by the lyrics in breathtaking national parks across the United States, they are a must watch. A definite variation on the known musical vibe Passenger has offered up in the past, Runaway is a journey no less worth the trip. That is why CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Runaway:
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