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Gary Dranow - Hadrian's Wall (self-released)

29 January 2024

Man, he just keeps doing this to me. When you think you have Gary Dranow placed, he comes back with some other musical revelation. I have followed him, via a flurry of recent releases, from mellow blues-scapes to forward-thinking alternative rock realms and back again, and all points in between.

But the revelation here is less about the music he makes. That said, “Hadrian’s Wall” does seem to sit slightly apart from what I have described above, this time a touch of classic rock melded with some folk-infused understatement and some inspired guitar work, all of which pushes the whole thing into a place that early Thin Lizzy explored when they wanted to break from their more raucous rock sounds. I can’t think of better company to have.

No, the revelation here is the subject matter. As the title suggests, “Hadrian’s Wall” tells of a Roman soldier serving at the end of the occupation of Brittania, quartered at the empire’s most northern outpost. It is a tale that can only result from no small amount of research on Gary’s part, following a historical thread along the titular defensive wall that divided the civilized world and the painted Picts beyond and then across the channel to help defend farther-flung borders from new invaders.

A real sense of humanity and heart in the song comes from the palpable feeling of separation from his family that the soldier is forced to endure and from the futility of being tasked with defending an empire that he will never really understand or get to appreciate, just as his father had before him.

As a history buff, I always appreciate someone writing about the past; it is one of the ways that history stays alive so we can learn from it. I’m even more pleased when that person is based five thousand miles away.

Gary Dranow never ceases to enthrall and delight me musically. This time out, he also appeals to my love of the past, and that doesn’t happen nearly enough in modern music. Let’s hope that he has started a trend. Histo-rock, it’s the next big thing. (Fingers crossed.)