Johnathan Rice has always contained multitudes: as a solo artist, he’s released three records under his own name and toured with acts as varied as R.E.M., Ray LaMontagne, Pavement, and Phoenix; as an actor, he’s channeled the likes of Roy Orbison, appearing alongside Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash in Walk The Line; as a behind-the-scenes guru, he’s recorded with Elvis Costello and written for everyone from Jenny Lewis to Meryl Streep; and as an author, he’s published an acclaimed book of poetry that prompted W Magazine to dub him “the beat poet of the Instagram generation.” But Rice’s stunning new album, ‘The Long Game,’ is something different entirely. Stripping his songs back to their most elemental selves, the collection is a naked reflection on loss, pain, acceptance, and growth, one that reveals a new kind of range and depth drawn entirely from within.
“This album is an honest look at what it’s like to be in a relationship that’s disintegrating,” says Rice. “It was important for me that the songs be unflinching in recognizing my own complicity in that experience, though, because I wasn’t interested in just playing the victim or wallowing in heartbreak. I wanted to paint a 360-degree view of everything that’s wonderfully beautiful and wonderfully sad about love all at the same time.”
Produced by longtime friend Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Aimee Mann), the record finds the Scottish-American songwriter’s full-bodied baritone in the spotlight like never before, often relying on nothing more than his deeply evocative voice and lyrical grace to conjure up whole worlds of darkness and light. The songs are bold in their austerity, unafraid of empty space and raw vulnerability, and the starkness of the performances enables even the subtlest flourish to land like a hammer. Guest appearances by Courtney Marie Andrews, who lends her unmistakable voice to a pair of duets, add a gorgeous and melancholic counterpoint to Rice’s compellingly restrained delivery, which manages to simultaneously evoke the weary cynicism of Leonard Cohen and the cinematic romance of Frank Sinatra’s more downbeat work. Regretful without bitterness, aching without self-pity, optimistic without naivety, the album charts Rice’s winding journey toward peace with himself and his past, acknowledging pain but insisting upon love every step of the way.