Hi, everyone! It’s Courtney. Our Song of the Week today is written by Leah Nobel. You may recognize her name from a previous Song of the Week, where we featured her track “Joshua Tree.” Since she’s one of my closest friends and we like a lot of the same heartbreaker songs, I knew she’d be a perfect choice as a guest author for this series. She’s not afraid to get a little raw and a little vulnerable, and I’ve had some truly life-changing conversations with her over the years.
Please give Leah a warm Model Behaviors welcome!
I’m pulled over on the side of a meandering neighborhood road in Nashville, Tennessee, having a major cry-fest. Concerned mothers dawdle by me in their space-ship-shaped minivans. I probably shouldn’t have parked in a school zone. My judgment was blurred. Everything was blurred. Because each time I listen to “Separate Ways” by Carl Anderson from his album “Risk of Loss,” I become emotional. And wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I have to pull over.
I was introduced to Anderson’s music during my first few weeks in Nashville. I had just moved to Tennessee after four years of living in Austin. I was vacillating between feeling homesick and being excited to start fresh in a new city. Carl and his wife opened a show at the Basement, an intimate venue on the outskirts of downtown. They had a simple setup, just two voices and an acoustic guitar. I love when an artist can capture an audience with only their instrument and their voice. It’s so refreshing during a time in music when so much of what we are seeing and hearing onstage feels contrived. When they played “Separate Ways,” you could hear a pin drop. I wrestled with the lump in my throat until I got home and downloaded the song. Then I let the tears rip as my confused dog sat at my feet.
Much like Anderson’s live performance, the recording starts off simply. To me, Anderson’s voice is the sonic equivalent of caramel popcorn, a crunchy-sweet combination with incredible texture. The track sounds like Anderson is standing in a big empty room, singing to only you through a tinge of echo. He draws you in with beautiful scenic imagery.
Was it you I saw in a dream last night, walking below the tree line?
The wind blew strong and the moon shown bright, was it your hand resting beneath mine?
Subtle harmonies kick in through the chorus as you feel a shift in intensity.
Despite our separate ways, I will love you always
The greatness of the song builds further as the drums beef up. “Separate Ways” even has this “Americana marching band” moment toward the end. The landscape of the track is diverse, but I feel like every season belongs. Anderson has written a song that’s audibly smart and lyrically vulnerable. This is a song about loss. But it’s also a song about accepting loss of love with grace, and feeling no shame in continuing to honor that love.
Admittedly, it took me a while to figure out why this song affects me so much. I’m a mushy person and a frequent crier, but it really takes a special song to unearth me. To put it simply, I’ve lived this story, much like many other people who’ve known great love and lost it. My grief has spent a few years in remission, allowing me to heal and fall in love again. But it still lives inside me, somewhere between that lump in my throat and my rib cage. Every once in awhile it flares up again—psychological heartburn. But we must remember that these flare-ups are good things. There are lessons to be learned when we sit with our grief, no matter how long ago it occurred. We all need a song that makes us pull over, forcing us to reach new levels of understanding and empathy within ourselves.
If you like “Separate Ways,” you may also enjoy “Cold Hands” and “Silver Lining” by Carl Anderson.