He did admit to canceling shows in 2015 due to laryngitis, anxiety and exhaustion, a trip that forced him to the hospital where they found a non-lethal cyst in his brain. How much did that hospital trip influence this album? He has been quoted saying he wrote it locked in a cabin over the course of a harsh Omaha winter.
Is ‘Ruminations’ the recourse of a man that spent his career writing about mortality with his life in jeopardy? Is it stripped and naked and vulnerable like we all are in hospital gowns? Is it a constant pendulum swinging between life’s beauties and it’s betrayals? Is it just Conor’s therapy?
As a testament to ‘Ruminations' ever exposed truths, I will admit in my weaker states, this album induced some anxiety in me. He doesn’t achieve this with his usual long winded and brilliant metaphors, even his language is simpler and stripped, it is grounded in lists and stark observations.
In the song Next of Kin he narrates powerfully in plain english,
“I saw a crash on the interstate,
It left a feeling I could not shake,
Just a name in a database who must be notified,
It's not a phone call I wanna make,
A stranger answers, I hesitate,
Got some bad news that couldn't wait,
Are you sitting down?”
As we are left alone with the genuine sadness of verse in this song, Conor’s harmonica recedes these single notes that appraise the company of rhythm. It is almost as if the music washes us of the harsh reality of the song. Is he using music to wash his mind? And so I ask again is this Conor’s therapy?
‘Ruminations’ isn’t all sadness, there is broad contentment in the lines “I don't mind my head, When there's room to dream, Feel like Paul Gauguin, Painting breadfruit trees, In some far off place, Where I don't belong.”(Barbary Coast) And “they're spread gossamer thin, Pushed to the edge, frayed at the ends, And it's no business of mine, They can love more than one at a time, But they’re pushing their luck, Hard but they must, Risk it all for love.”(Gossamer Thin)
If Conor’s mind is a diluted stream of his music, it can be difficult to envy the power in which his perspective lays life onto him. In ‘Ruminations’ perhaps he magnifies naked vulnerability and he meditates on our fragility and it may not be the album we wanted, but it is most likely the album that he needed, for without his therapy who knows if we would be gifted his mind, cyst and all.
‘Ruminations' is a hard album, but it means poetry, like a makeshift splint that carried you one more day to a mountains peak, or the intentions behind the man that invented the never ending kleenex box.