Don't Stop

Making any piece of art is an act of will and/or defiance

Don't Stop
Colman Gota, Don't Stop Playing Guitar

Maybe it's my age or maybe it's the age we're in — probably equal helpings of both — but I feel like a lot of things have started to seem particularly fraught over the last, oh, eight years or so, and none of them seem to be getting much better. On one hand, I suppose being an adult means you're always struggling with some damn thing at all times; on the other hand, it really feels like the struggle keeps getting more and more real for virtually everyone I know and/or observe on social media. Optimism, and maybe even hope, appear to be in increasingly short supply.

Those feelings are the breach that art steps into, whether by reminding us of life's infinite capacity for beauty, letting us know someone else understands, inspiring us to rage against the dying of the light, or simply to distract us for a little while. I've listened to Colman Gota's Don't Stop Playing Guitar a whole bunch over the last couple of weeks, and I think it checks all of those boxes in one way or another.

I wrote a little bit about a track from an earlier Gota album in an Islands in the Stream post a couple of months ago, saying the song "conjures forth a world in which Tom Petty decided he wanted to be Nick Lowe when he grew up." I still feel like that'd be a pretty great world to live in, but that isn't the vibe Gota captures with Don't Stop Playing Guitar — instead, I feel like this reflects a subtler, more mature songwriter, one who's become terrifically adept at balancing raw fragility against willful defiance. The protagonists in a lot of Don't Stop's 17 tracks don't have a lot going for them; they're often grappling openly with feelings of loneliness and despair. They're still going, though, even if the only real goal is to take one more step, see one more day, play one more chord.

That all probably makes Don't Stop Playing Guitar sound like a downer of an album, but it really isn't. This is a really rich and colorful record, one that's invigoratingly uptempo on balance but blessed with varied and consistently interesting arrangements across the board. Gota's adenoidal vocals aren't what you'd necessarily think of when dreaming up ideal vehicles for rock anthems, but that only adds to the essential vulnerability that makes the album such a joy to listen to. If you're familiar with the autumnally hued bare-knuckle brawling of Matthew Ryan's music, think of this record as the brighter side of that coin. It's all music that urges the listener to look for the light — and to keep persistently plowing ahead if you can't see it where you are right now. We could use more records like this.