“Mama, I’m doing alright,” bellows Courtney Whitehead on the first single and opening track from Find Your Way Out–his second full length album as the frontman of Denver-based southern rock band Bison Bone. It’s the kind of answer I’ve half-heartedly given over and over this year, where things haven’t been particularly good, but there’s no real use talking on why. And they could sure be worse. So, yeah, “I’m doing alright.” But when Whitehead says it in that twang of his, in those wide-open, free-ringing notes, it hits a little different.
From him, it gives off an air of hard-earned positivity. Whitehead wrote the songs for this album in the midst of recovering from a bout with Lyme disease, and he dedicates them to listeners’ own struggles, whether with physical or mental health. “I’ve gotten my fair share of trying times in the last decade, but I continue to work beyond it and build on defining who I am,” he says in a press release for the record. “In my process of healing, I establish being more present, supportive, humble, and vulnerable.”
Somehow, it’s all there in that first chorus and its friendly glow, and the next verse, as Whitehead goes on promising a visit to the old family home come springtime–with a significant other in tow (“Long brown hair and a golden soul / when you know, you know”). He doesn’t need to name the struggle behind that contentment; it’s there in the semisweet melody and the band’s fine-sandpaper roots-rock grit, a package that recalls Tom Petty or The Wallflowers in its pedal steel pads and electric licks.
And while “Alright” may be the record’s stickiest track, that approachable gravel carries Bison Bone through a slew of other worthy rock jams. “Drinking to Do” is a rollicking barroom belter with some of Whitehead’s best country-isms (“how the words don’t even rhyme / how we used to could stop on a dime”) and some of the band’s best guitar soloing. “Pack It Up” is a kiss off track packed wall to wall with harmonies and hooks. The tunes are there, if sometimes a little repetitious from track to track, and the edges are overall more polished than the band’s 2017 debut full-length History of Falling.
“Sad Machine,” with its pounding drum intro, offers Whitehead’s most specific encouragement: come out from behind the screen, get some fresh air, and spend time with your friends, he urges. “Go all around this town / eat tacos by the pound / and drink a Bloody Mary.” Seven months into pandemic-mandated isolation, that imagery has maybe never been so potent. These days it’s a kind of escapist fantasy, even, but it rings true–it really is the simple things that make life bearable day to day, like a friend to help you let off some steam. Find Your Way Out is an album that works by the same principle, and where it succeeds, it does so on Bison Bone’s humble charm and infectious good humor.