It wouldn’t be an overstatement to refer to Sorrow Sings, the newest full-length from Chicago-area singer/songwriter Kevin Andrew Prchal, as a thesis set to music. Purposefully devoted to opposites: Light and dark; Heaven and Hell; Life and death; Deep love and utter loneliness, etc., Prchal (rhymes with “circle”) explores these territories with the mindset to accept, or even revel in those differences rather than pit them against each other. Even the video clips Prchal filmed with Justin Thompson and Rhapsody Productions for the album are drenched in shadows, shot in black-and-white, and nearly reminiscent of silent movies from days gone by. Upon Prchal’s launch of a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to finish the album, he mentioned “just as light cannot exist without the dark in a room, I cannot exist without the dark in me. So rather than running from it, or trying to change it, I welcomed it.” The bottom line is that sadness may not have the same sound as joy, but it’s far from voiceless. Hence, the fitting title of this project as Sorrow Sings.
With the album being such a personal conquest for Prchal, how it got completed seems to fit a traditional wedding ritual.
Something old: The curious photograph on the cover of Sorrow Sings. This image of a man on a boat who could be either arriving at his final destination, or leaving for unknown territories, is what inspired the project in the first place. “It completely blew me away,” said Prchal on finding the photograph in a box of his grandfather’s belongings a few years ago. Unable to connect the dots due to his grandfather’s death, Prchal explained, ”I don’t know who it is or where it was taken, but it’s with this mystery that I let my imagination run wild. Many of the songs (on the album) are sort-of an imagined narrative of this man on his journey. Though most of the songs are fictional, the themes explored come from a very personal place. That man trying to get from one physical place to another is really just my metaphor of me mentally, spiritually, and emotionally trying to get to another place.” Prchal’s odes of travel, such as the lush “Follow The Mountain,” or the short mid-record centerpiece “Top of the World” act as an audio tapestry weaved from the album art.
Something new: Prchal’s blooming relationship, and how it’s showcased vividly on Sorrow Sings. “When I met my fiancée, Aly Krawczyk, I had no idea she could sing. But then one day we were in the car and she just started perfectly harmonizing with whatever song was on the radio and I nearly drove my car off the road. So, I put her to work!” Krawczyk sings on nearly every song making the album that much more meaningful to Prchal in the long-run. “This album,” Prchal explains, “serves as documented proof of our love and time together. Something that hopefully our grandkids will be happy to have one day.” On cuts like “Them Begging Birds” or the tender “Devil Don’t Know My Hymn,” her flawless delivery is a welcome anchor to Prchal’s emotional weight.
Something borrowed: The collaborative talents and efforts involved in the making of Sorrow Sings and the environment in which they were recorded. Whether it’s John Morton’s breathtaking string arrangements, the quivering pedal steel of Todd Pertll, Prchal’s string plucking and crisp vocal delivery, or the many guests that contribute throughout the record (including members of Company of Thieves, Cameron McGill & What Army, AM Taxi, Deals Gone Bad, The Quiet Revelry, and more), Sorrow Sings was brought to life in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without them. These talents were enhanced by the luscious acoustics of Koten Chapel; a small chapel in suburban Naperville on the campus of North Central College where the album was recorded. Prchal hopes to schedule a date this year where he’ll perform the entire album beginning to end for an audience at Koten Chapel.
Something blue: Shortly after recording began, Prchal’s friend and bandmate, Joe Sell, tragically passed away leaving his mark on the world, and on the first track of the album, “Rise & Dim.” “This song is not only a testament to his unparalleled talent,” Prchal said, “it’s a document of our time spent making music together.” Some of Sorrow‘s most harrowing lines come from this stunning track, with Prchal comparing lightness to water surrounding a sinking car, and how he welcomes the heaviness of a new day by singing, “I greet this howling as nothing but an old familiar friend.” Such words would sound dour coming from another’s lungs, but coming from Prchal, it’s a successful attempt to map out what’s coming, and let listeners know that he’s with us whole way.
What Prchal and company have created with this release is a timeless, wholly-relatable love letter to romanticized uncertainty. While others in Prchal’s genre of alt-country/folk have been stomping and clapping their way to calculated sunshine, he remains a vital artist coming to terms with our biggest fears, spinning yarns on par with the darkened honesty of Johnny Cash’s American series. If Sorrow Sings teaches us anything, it’s that being alive – figuratively or literally – is the only other option to dying, but it’s not without its burden. “If the world it ain’t nothin’ but diggers and graves,” Prchal and Krawczyk ponder in the last words of the album, “My dear, my darling, dig away.”