David Quinn’s third album was born from a logo on a decades-old ashtray he found in a corner nook at Nashville’s Sound Emporium while tracking his previous record. The amber glass piece had seen better days, but it was the words “Country Fresh” imprinted on the side in its vintage font that grabbed Quinn’s attention. “I never stopped thinking about it and started using the phrase ‘country fresh’ to describe how I was living and all the things that I like. It just stuck with me and once I wrote the song ‘Country Fresh’ it ended up being the whole theme of the record.”
His first two albums, 2019’s Wanderin’ Fool, and 2020’s Letting Go were both infectious roots records that put Quinn on the musical map, gaining praise from Saving Country Music, The Chicago Tribune, Wide Open Country, The Boot, The Americana Music Association, Glide Magazine, American Songwriter, and The Bluegrass Situation, just to name a few. Even with the litany of accolades Quinn has already landed, it feels like with Country Fresh, we’re only getting started with this Illinois native.
In the wake of the pandemic back in 2020, Quinn left his adopted headquarters of Chicago in favor of a move to rural Indiana, into a house on a lake. This new — dare we say “Country Fresh” — setting enabled him to tap into the nostalgia of his childhood and rev up his creativity. For years he had been trying to find the words to describe his sound and what set it apart from his contemporaries. Last year, it finally hit him: he was making Black Dirt Country music. It’s the sound of midwestern storytelling, in the vein of his biggest influence, the country folk of John Prine, who was also born and raised in Illinois.
Armed with a dozen new songs after soaking up his new life in the woods, Quinn decided that for this album he’d up the ante and produce it himself. Returning to Sound Emporium with handpicked players, including Laur Joamets (Drivin N Cryin) on slide guitar and solos, Micah Hulscher (Emmylou Harris) on piano, Fats Kaplin (John Prine) on fiddle, dobro, banjo and harmonica, Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson) on drums, Jamie T. Davis (Margo Price) on guitar and Brett Resnick (Kacey Musgraves) on pedal steel, the album was engineered and mixed by Mike Stankiewicz (Willie Nelson, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell) and mastered by John Baldwin Mastering (The Rolling Stones, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristopherson).
Alongside this star-studded ensemble, Quinn recorded a love letter to the midwest with tunes that tell stories of lost love, the open road, and finding one’s place in the world. Country Fresh is a collection of country-fried Americana gems corralled by Quinn’s singular voice and expertly-spun tales of heartache and triumphs amidst a vast midwestern landscape.
Country music’s one constant, in its many permutations and guises, is that it tells us stories of real people living their ordinary lives, sometimes doing extraordinary things. On the new album, Quinn hits all of these notes. “Low Down” is a song about dealing with not really ever having a place to call home and wearing your welcome out wherever you go. “Cornbread and Chili” is a smile-inducing ditty that evokes the way Guy Clark wrote about his love for food in songs. “Boy From Illinois” is an upbeat song about the easy living of midwestern life. “Long Road” speaks to the downtimes and the feeling of hopelessness.
Throughout the album, Quinn gives a masterclass in storytelling with the ability to stage vibrant vignettes of life, home, and heart. He burns through the songwriting at a cool stride, allowing you the chance to see yourself in his stories. Country Fresh is a statement-making record of gutting, instinctual songcraft. Its depth is built from the road less traveled, but traveled often. There’s nothing pretentious about what Quinn has created here; Country Fresh simply sounds like its creator is taking you along on the ride of his life.