John Dennis has continued to establish himself as a songwriter with thought-provoking lyrics that take a profound look at life’s obstacles and the beauty that stems from tragedy.
John’s new album Mortal Flames is a personal record that touches on universal themes; through each song, Dennis searches for meaning in his childhood, the disillusionment of adolescence, the joys and sorrows of first love, learning to accept the past, healing, and eventually death—the inevitable constant that keeps the cycle going.
The album has been spotlighted by a variety of outlets, including print features in ProSound News, Adelante Magazine, and The Freeburg Tribune. Glide Magazine compared Dennis’s “simple yet powerful folk songs” to the likes of Jason Isbell and Conor Oberst, whileAmericana Highways commented, “John Dennis has created a truly captivating, innovative sound as he tells a story from beginning to end on Mortal Flames.”
Next month, Dennis will begin touring in support of the album, starting at Nashville’s Tennessee Brew Works on February 20; more dates to be announced. Mortal Flames is available today, click here to purchase.
Freeburg, IL, native John Dennis has lived a long life in his mere 27 years, but he’s certainly never hidden his story away. From the death of his girlfriend Adrienne in 2010 to his subsequent and near-fatal battle with alcoholism to his journey through recovery, Dennis has efficiently and poetically crafted his story, beliefs, and feelings into song and things are no different with his newest release Mortal Flames. Following the elemental title theme of his first two albums—Eternity’s Tree (2014) and Second Wind (2017)—Mortal Flames finds Dennis asking en lieu of telling; How does one process and heal the wounds of the past or how does man find meaning in life in the face of mortality? Mortal Flames is a concept album of sorts, chronologically following the timeline of human life from birth to death—including adolescence, first love, loss, and new beginnings—never missing a step along the way.
Last November, The Bluegrass Situation premiered the album’s lead single, “First Light,” a track that delves into Dennis’s own version of a creation myth. “I wanted to set up the ‘mortal flames’ idea by challenging myself to imagine my own poetic version of existence coming to be,” says Dennis. “The idea that resonated most with me was that of all life being a part of one great, harmonious—and sometimes cacophonous—song and dance; and its fundamental ‘meaning’ is to continually experience the wonder of itself.”
Filled with equal parts beautifully finger-picked acoustic and gritty, tremolo-drenched electric guitars, Mortal Flames is painted with detailed, thoughtful strokes, even when the bigger picture is broadly rock and roll. Take for example, “Board Game Money,” which represents childhood in the chronology of Mortal Flames. “Board Game Money” rollicks right into a stomp and clap laden ruckus, but, like all of the songs on this album, the depth of the song’s content is more than meets the eye. “At its inception, the idea for this song came from the ironic combination of feeling like I was barely scraping by financially and several late-night Monopoly game nights,” says Dennis. “But to tell the album’s story, I also wanted to have a song that conjured the wistfulness of being a kid with all of the limitlessness of imagination and possibility—hence the heavy use of mythical and fairy tale imagery.”
On the latter half of Mortal Flames, “Good Good Love” is the reverse of the coin, representing a period of learning to love again within the album’s timeline. The song revolves around the precipice of Dennis’s relationship with his current girlfriend. “We both had been hurt deeply in the past, and the idea of being faced with something that seemed genuinely good, let alone being deserving of it was frightening,” Dennis remembers. “‘Good Good Love’ is about that place. I guess what I was thinking was ‘what is the one thing everyone needs to hear?’ and that became the lyrics to the chorus.” Mortal Flames closes with “Oh Beloved,” a song which Dennis wanted to “not only signified the death of the main character but also, describe what I would want said to me before my own death.” “To me it sums up all of the things I would want to say to someone who is dying,” continues Dennis. “And the lines ‘nobody blames you for having to leave’ and ‘your failures mean nothing, it’s success just to be’ specifically aim to comfort the part of me that would feel guilty to die and to leave behind those that I love.” After the last breath of “Oh Beloved” is breathed, the ethereal whistling motif from “First Light” ties the entire story together, signaling the cycle of life to begin again. Mortal Flames ends as it begins; from dust to dust, an invitation for all, alongside John Dennis, to tell our own stories and bear our own scars.
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More About John Dennis:
John Dennis is a Nashville, TN based singer-songwriter signed to Rainfeather Records. He has developed his own unique brand of Americana music that, at once, harkens back to some of folk music’s greatest lyricists, namely: Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and James Taylor, while also carving out a musical place that is uniquely his own. He will release his third full-length record, “Mortal Flames” in January 2020, and, like the two that came before (“Eternity’s Tree” and “Second Wind”), it represents a substantial creative work brimming with an extraordinary maturity for a writer still in his twenties– both in the complexity of his craft and the courageous transparency of his subject matter. By never shying away from revealing his own scars, Dennis creates a deep human connection with his music and has an uncanny ability to provide an incredible testimony of hope and redemption that can only come from those that have found their way out of life’s most tragic and consuming darknesses. His work has been acclaimed by American Songwriter Magazine, The Alternate Root, and many others. For an artist who seems to run so deep, and whose authenticity plants him so firmly on the ground, the sky seems to be the limit for John Dennis.