The Great Divide leans on pillars the band was built on 20 years ago: a reverence for masterful, relatable songwriting and a lack of interest in following the rules.
New York ~ Courtesy of Sarah Frost ~ album release date October 28, 2022
Two decades after the last album from The Great Divide, the band that helped originate the Red Dirt scene has gotten back together to release Providence this fall (Oct. 28). The album looks at how far the band has come as a group and individually—and spends even more time looking ahead. The first single is “Good Side” (out tomorrow, August 26) — “the last I heard the world was ending, and everybody let each other down…” sums up the last couple of years well, but ultimately the song is an invitation to find silver linings where we can.
“The overall arc of the record is dealing with time; it asks how much time we have left in our lives and how we want to spend the remaining years,” songwriter Mike McClure says. “It’s about admitting the areas where work is needed and putting in the effort to do something about it.”
When discussing the momentous occasion that is this new album’s release, it’s important also to understand the road it’s taken to get here and the mark The Great Divide made on a scene. In all fairness, saying they made a mark is putting it lightly–if you were to talk to virtually anyone making music in the Red Dirt scene in the early 2000s, it’s likely The Great Divide was on their list of influences. The band was playing 200 shows a year and released five albums together; they eventually signed a record deal with Atlantic Records in Nashville and garnered some chart success. Garth Brooks even recorded one of their songs. They weren’t just one of the first bands to forge their way down this path; in many ways, they were some of its originators.
When frontman Mike McClure left for a solo career in 2003, marking the end of the band as its original lineup—McClure, bassist Kelley Green and brothers Scotte and JJ Lester on rhythm guitar and drums—the break seemed definite. McClure moved on, releasing nine albums on his own, and for anyone who knew of their turbulent end, it was assumed the band would never reunite, let alone restore faith in one another.
Fast forward a decade, and The Great Divide began playing shows together again, a starting point in moving past the chaotic time surrounding the band’s breakup. Fast forward another decade, and they’ve added a new member, keyboardist Bryce Conway, and are releasing their first new studio album in 20 years.
“Few chapters in Red Dirt history are as important as The Great Divide’s…” Josh Crutchmer’s 2020 book, Red Dirt asserts. “The band blazed a path out of Stillwater that artists still follow to this day…multiple generations have come and gone without realizing the significance of the four-piece ensemble.”
Within the 10 tracks on Providence, The Great Divide leans on pillars the band was built on 20 years ago: a reverence for masterful, relatable songwriting and a lack of interest in following the rules—though this time, the rules they’re circumventing seem to center more around the idea that anything and anyone outlaw-adjacent can’t also be happy, seek balance and want more from their lives and legacies.
“[Back in the 90s], we would talk about how we miss good country music—not the line dance stuff that was coming out of Nashville at the time, “ JJ Lester says. “We decided we would try to save country music.”
“When we started the process of recording this album, we would run through a song and we would all just look at each other; it felt like 1997.” he continues. “When I listen to these songs, they are the story of the last 15 years.”
Providence begins with “Wrong Is Overrated,” a direct conversation between McClure and the rest of the band.“It’s an admission of my part of the blame on what led to the break up in the first place,” McClure says. “I made a mess of things–too much booze and too many drugs mixed with ego and frustration. The classic combination of downfall for so many musicians. Luckily though, I have a new lens of sobriety to look through, and I’m coming from a place of healing, forgiveness and rebirth.”
“I Can Breathe Again” is a tried-and-true love song, hinging around the idea that love has this transformative power that can lift you up and out of whatever it is that you’re going through.
“Good Side” began with a simple chord progression, evolved into a melody, and in its final form, is an invitation to find a silver lining, some joy and a lighter spirit. “Set It All Down” follows, a continuation of sorts. “Slipping Away” is a relatable take on days, months, and years moving forward, seemingly in an instant; “Infinite Line” follows a similar theme, a pondering of how quickly 20 or 50 years can pass by.
“There is a coming full circle aspect for us as a band; as performers and people,” McClure says about Providence. “Everyone is bringing their best to the table for the first time in years, and when that happens, The Great Divide is a force,” he says. “This album brings with it a certain hope.”