David Hanners, “The Traveler’s Burden”
By Jim Walsh, MinnPost.com | 1/29/2010

Like Townes Van Zandt doing “Nebraska,” the Texas-born Hanners steers his way through 12 story-songs in the voice of troubled folks, loners, prisoners, sad sacks, Iraq War vets, murderers and dark dreamers. It’s a road record, in other words, made for listening to while contemplating the creepy cubbyholes of America and all the sordid souls she incubates. Throughout it all, Hanners, a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, proves to be an uncommonly empathetic medium for his subjects, but the tunes themselves are crafted with great subtlety, built on emotional nuances that cut to the quick of the storytellers’ motivation.

“My name’s Mohamed Saleh/As if you even care/To you I’m just another Somali/To me you’re just another fare,” sings Hanners, in the voice of the cab driver who was murdered in Minneapolis in 2003. It’s a dramatic tale, sung with real outrage, but sometimes the story is simply about the drudgery of living. “Westfield Blues” is a non-judgmental narrative about a meth lab operator who loves his girl-slash-partner-in-crime and concludes, “Some do it for the money/Some do it for the thrill/I guess I cook to pay the bills.”

Hanners’s thin, twangy voice make the desperation palpable, as do the spare guitars, harmonica and harmonies, whether it’s the title song — a peak into the soul of lonely salesman-turned-killer — or the cry-for-help prayer that is “When My Demons and I Come Home.” Like the bulk of “The Traveler’s Burden,” these are stories that rarely make it to songs, much less newspapers, and make for extremely uneasy listening. Highly recommended.