Finding a satisfactory balance between life on the road and domestic bliss has felled many a couple. Unsuspecting relationships can be torn asunder by the conflicting pull of the highway and home, leaving both parties with wounds that are slow to heal. The strain that arises in these situations is explored extensively on singer-songwriter Dan Patterson’s latest album My Own Best Enemy, an introspective recording that recounts the stories not only of those who leave, but those who are left behind.
In Patterson’s eyes, life is not meant to remain static; for the Texas native, movement is essential to survival. That premise fuels much of My Own Best Enemy, the follow-up to 2013’s critically acclaimed Smoke in My Lungs. Patterson candidly addresses the repercussions of pride, selfishness, and obliviousness without judgment, offering empathy to all, pity to none. This measured approach to storytelling serves him well, allowing Patterson to craft songs that feature complex characters who are neither heroes nor villains. Instead, they are representative of the struggles all people undergo.
Fittingly, Patterson, who first gained attention as the lead singer of Texas country band Twisted Road, draws from a well of influences, blending neotraditional country with folk, blues, and rock. Evocative instrumentation underscores the clarity of his voice. The prominent use of melancholic steel guitar should find favor with fans of traditional and contemporary country alike, appealing to multiple audiences.
Throughout My Own Best Enemy romance often takes a backseat to the call of wanderlust. Consider the restless narrator of album opener “She’ll Have To Wait,” who leaves familiar comforts in search of seemingly greener pastures. “I can’t stay sane if I’m stuck in one place,” he admits, well aware that his search for fulfillment may be fruitless. Nonetheless, he recognizes that his opportunities to roam may be dwindling, unapologetically noting “I can’t stop the man I am/I’ve gotta keep moving while I still can.” Those sentiments are echoed by the budding musician in the harmonica-driven “Maybe in Another Life” whose pursuit of fame signals the demise of a love affair: “I’m breaking hearts as fast as I can/It’s not what I want/But it’s all that I am.” Although chasing down a dream leads to the loss of human connection, the narrator remains unbowed.
On the other hand, story song “Rambling Fool” deals with the emotional fall-out suffered by a troubadour who fails to nurture his marriage. He is left bereft when the wife he ignored leaves him for another. Although he puts on a good face (“The songs that once saved him/Felt more like a tomb/But he’d strum along/The crowds never knew”), he is unable to resume a carefree existence. However, he has no choice but to press on in the aftermath of his heartache, a cautionary tale to all who would follow in his footsteps.
Despite the potential consequences associated with constantly moving around, those who remain immobile seem destined to wither away. The abandoned husband in steel-laden weeper “Me and Her Wedding Ring” is left with only his regrets and a shiny band that he tellingly “want[s] so bad to move…but [he’s] not able.” Displaying clear-eyed reflection and vulnerability, the song features one of Patterson’s most moving vocal performances.
That said, the record’s biggest highlight may very well be “Cheyenne.” Penned during his time with Twisted Road, the tune showcases Patterson’s versatility as a vocalist, melding sincere delivery with a growl reminiscent of an early aughts era rock star. Vowing that his headlights will be “the only ones to ever see me cry,” the narrator is cognizant that the sense of peace he seeks may continue to elude him. Nonetheless, he remains determined to shed his sorrow through sheer force of will, an ambition mirrored by the number’s soaring instrumentation.
Gorgeous ballad “The Other Side” closes the album on a hopeful note, an understated testament to the power of having faith even when faced with the unknown.
Strong songwriters manage to make even their most personal work resonate with an audience. My Own Best Enemy‘s tales of remorse, yearning, and defiance should connect with those also seeking peace of mind and freedom. At his best, Patterson illuminates the common mistakes and desires that bind us together as people, emphasizing that we are far from alone on life’s chaotic journey.