The cover shot on NYC-based singer-songwriter Riley Etheridge Jr.'s latest, The Arrogance Of Youth-out September 18th on Rock Ridge Music-features three young men clad in jeans and leather jackets. All have slicked back hair, and one is coolly lighting a cigarette. It's a timeless image of teenage defiance. It could easily be 2012, but it's actually 1946, and these boys are shipping off to war. The surly one in the center lighting the cig is Riley Etheridge Sr.
This is indeed the picture of The Arrogance Of Youth. Through a broad palette of authentic and finely crafted Americana-late-night blues, hard-luck folk, buoyant Bayou soul, barn-burning country-Etheridge's third album eloquently and emotionally looks deeply into the highly relatable quandary of "if I knew then what I know now." "The arrogance of youth is a thread that winds itself through each of the songs," Etheridge explains. "It's about how, as we mature, perspectives in our lives change in surprising ways. A lot of things I knew for sure when I was 19 turned out to not be the case."
The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter was born in South Carolina but spent 20 creatively transformative years in Louisiana, soaking up the region's unique and rich musical heritage. MusicFog.com succinctly says: "Riley lives in New York now, but you can still track the south in his music." Etheridge has been favorably compared to Radney Foster, Billy Joe Shaver, and Uncle Tupelo, among others. His moving lyrics are often singled out in reviews. Innocent Words praised his writing, saying, "Nothing grabs your attention more than Etheridge's clever word play and finesse with the language of love, lust, and loss." The bible of hip, modern Americana, No Depression, named him an artist to watch.
The Arrogance Of Youth feels like a collection of quaintly poignant vignettes on growing up that, when taken as a whole, span a lifetime of introspection and wisdom. The shimmering country ballad "They Still Dance" tenderly frames the fragile beauty of an elderly couple graciously dancing. Etheridge sings with delicate emotionality: As she spins in his arms she's recalling/The nights of their youth spent in Harlem/For forty score years she has loved him. The modern roots-pop of "Empty Hands" bravely and vulnerably dissects mid-life divorce, on it Etheridge sings: I'm sorry if you don't understand me/ I'm sorry I don't fit into your plans/ I'm headed west regardless of who you think I am/ To rebuild anew with these two empty hands. The good-time bluesy "Whole New Side Of Me" offers a rowdy, lighthearted moment, playfully apologizing for reckless young love. "We had a tour date in Baton Rouge and there was a chance an old girlfriend could show up to the gig," Etheridge says. "It made me think about past relationships. The song is a tongue in cheek reflection about exiting those relationships in a way that would not make me proud. I thought maybe they would give me a break and see a whole new side of me."
Longtime Willie Nelson harmonica player Mickey Raphael shines on "Whole New Side Of Me." His appearance is one of many musical treats on The Arrogance Of Youth. Etheridge surrounds himself with some of the finest musicians of New Orleans and Nashville. He tracked the album in both cities, lending a bi-locale aesthetic that's distinctly Riley Etheridge Jr. Longtime producer and creative partner Wendell.
Tilley was on board for this album, furthering the duo's vision of creating a unique Music City-country-meets-Crescent City-groove sensibility to accompany Etheridge's deeply confessional storytelling lyrics. Etheridge and Tilley have done three previous albums together. One way their creative partnership stays
fresh is by Tilley's evocative song-specific approach. "Wendell has done many movie scores. He thinks
of how songs should be produced to convey the message, and he doesn't repeat himself. Each song is a unique adventure."
Riley Etheridge Jr. has shared stages with a broad array of respected artists such as Ricky Skaggs, Sister Hazel, Tony Lucca, and Matt Duke, among many others. Recently his song "Scene Of The Crime" was licensed to Bose Audio for a compilation CD. Despite all this, what's key for Etheridge is the meaningful interaction his very personal songs elicit. "A recent highlight was playing a private house concert in Columbia, South Carolina. We did sing-alongs in my old friend's living room. To reconnect with friends from so many years ago and know they're interested in my songs really touched me."