Steve Judice is a full-time lawyer and part-time musician who’s taken a simple but rather brilliant approach to making his name as a traditionally countryish troubadour: He simply finds out where his heroes are playing and opens up for them. It’s not only smart marketing, it’s a good guide to who he is when he’s not in a courtroom: He’s opened for Billy Joe Shaver, Roy Book Binder, James McMurtry, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, and the dozen songs on his fourth release sound like what you would get if you blended those styles together—an only sometime-comic rumination on what it’s like when your hope grows as weird as your body.
In fact, Loose Ends would be a depressing album if Steve wasn’t so agreeably offhand about the inevitability of aging and the unreliability of long-term commitments. The first five songs on this set paint a pretty bleak picture of what happens when a man stops believing in love: “We’ve frayed the fringes of our last loose ends.” “I bloodied up my knuckles when I punched our bedroom wall.” “I dine on scraps from tables that you’ve turned.” As you can see, he’s mastered a country veteran’s ability to summon tragedy from an ordinary detail and twist a metaphor into a tragedy, so it doesn’t matter that his voice is mostly just serviceable—in fact, the raggedness suits the drama just right.
Judice eventually leavens that drama with a little comic relief with “Bitch Slapped (By the Hands of Time),” about growing older and finding a stranger in the mirror every day, and he gets a little generic with more gimmicky songs like “Radio,” which is really just an oldies playlist sung aloud, and “Mystifying,” which doesn’t offer anything you didn’t already know about the worst flaws of human nature. But then he brings it all back home with the closer “Dementia,” which takes an equally unflinching view of the title subject, wondering where exactly the mind goes when it starts to go. Like the frayed rope on the cover, Steve is fixated on things coming apart, but his vision—at least metaphorically—hasn’t started to fail him yet. Like any great country artist, he can see right through you.