Darrin Bradbury’s sophomore album, Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs, from which the song “This Too Shall Pass” is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Sept. 19), shares two things in common with his 2016 debut Elmwood Park: namely references to time travel and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After that, however, it’s determinedly different.
“The first album was very much songs from the road,” the Madison, Tenn.-based singer and songwriter tells Billboard. “It has a lot of references to travel, the underbelly of America, things I’d see on the road. But this time, when I was sitting here in my house with my dog in a spare room writing songs, it would be disingenuous for me to write from any other position than the one I’m in. I’m in a home now, so what’s life like at home for me? There was a lot of sitting at my desk and staring out the window with my dog at my feet, so what’s my truth in this moment?”
Truth, of course, can be a relative term in Bradbury’s songs. A sharp-witted satirist, he finds ways to bend real-life circumstances into occasional sensational narratives with their own dark underbelly. He jokes about how the “sincerity” of the new album’s “The Trouble With Time,” a duet with Margo Price, is an outlier, something his parents can play for friends and family to say, “See, my kid’s not a fucked up.”
On much of the album, however, Bradbury says he was “trying to trick my brain into talking about depression in a way that was OK to talk about, that it would be an acceptable conversation topic. I started writing things I was seeing around my own house, how I was seeing them and how my brain interprets it. It was sort of an exercise.”
The decidedly country flavored “This Too Shall Pass,” meanwhile, came from a dream Bradbury had. “I was falling endlessly and spitting out all of my teeth — this was the night before taking a flight back home to New York,” he recalls. “I don’t like airports. They need to use softer language. You show up and the first thing you see is Terminal — ‘Mr. Bradbury, we’re sorry to say the cancer is terminal.’ And Departures: ‘We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the life of the dearly departed.’ Arrivals: ‘Unfortunately Mr. Bradbury arrived at the hospital dead on arrival.’ I don’t have any suggestion for these airports, but the whole thing’s a panic trap. So, I started humming this tune in my head at the airport. All of that being said, I’m just jazzed to have a song that utilizes the word ‘albeit.'”
Bradbury put in a busy AmericanaFest to advance Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs, due out Sept. 20, He has a week of shows coming up with John Moreland and a three-week trip to the U.K., the latter of which has him particularly geeked. “I’m really excited to see how audiences over there respond to an American folk singer in these times, who’s not trying to sell them about the way things were but about the way things are,” Bradbury says. “I think we have a lot to learn from each other.”