Folk singers are storytellers. The best ones are able to take the most simplistic subject matter and make it ache with beauty. The great ones can also take life's greatest complexities and unanswerable questions and present us with a new, relatable vision with which we can view such big-picture wonderings. Fort Worth's Jacob Furr, 28, has been that type of troubadour for some time now.
Last August, Furr, his family and friends faced the harshest side of life's possibilities when his wife of three years, Christina, died of cancer. It's not a stretch to say that even though he's still quite young, the passing of his wife, whom he had known his "whole life," will likely be his most excruciating artistic inspiration, regardless of how long he lives.
Jacob and Christina were married in 2010, at the Point Bonita Lighthouse in northern California, where you can see the Pacific Ocean over the jagged cliffs lying next to the 137 year-old landmark. That was only a few months after they reconnected during a trip Furr and his sister, who was also close to Christina, made to the West coast in 2009. Jacob and Christina were, as they say, "meant to be," and they loved each other for better or worse, richer or poorer.
Christina's passing arrived with unapologetic swiftness. She was diagnosed in the spring of last year, leaving only a few quickly passing months for Furr to be with her before things changed forever. The shock of the diagnosis, the sudden nature of the cancer's progression and the mourning of a future they would never share produced an active psyche for Furr, who grew up admiring folk icons like Nick Drake -- artists who knew a thing or two about suffering.
The songs on Furr's newly released record, the immaculate Trails and Traces, represent glimpses of his life when Christina was alive and after she passed. Understandably, there are songs on the new album that have changed meanings, felt differently and morphed into new creatures inside Furr's mind as he has now lived with them during the writing, recording and performing of them.
"These songs took shape over a lot of different times and places," Furr says of the record that was also recorded in northern California. "'Falling Stars' was written when we lived in San Francisco. It wasn't until I was out on the road after she passed away that the song's meaning and full force finally hit me."
That song, which Furr has a beautiful video filmed for, isn't the only tune that's come to mean something now that it originally didn't. The powerfully gentle, spiritual rumination "Come to Pass," delivered in Furr's rich, haunting vocal tone, is another such song.
"That was written right after our first stay in the hospital," Furr explains. "We were all so stunned and shocked and grateful that she had survived, so I wrote it originally as a very happy song. It turned a corner on the same road trip that 'Falling Stars' really hit me. My favorite song on the record though, 'Branches,' was written by her bedside in the hospital. It was the last song she heard me write and I'm extremely proud of it."
On its own, the new album is a fantastic example of folk-rock. But when one listens to a song like "Branches," which is a somewhat up-tempo number, and then envisions a loving husband serenading his young, dying wife, it's impossible to not feel a sting that hurts just enough to make the words jump out of the speakers and into vivid reality. As tough as it might be for listeners to digest these songs without having myriad emotions rush through them, Furr, who is a regular performer at Fort Worth's best rooms such as Fred's, Lola's and Magnolia Motor Lounge, actually manages to allow such remembrances of Christina to fuel him as he brings these specific songs to life on-stage.
"My mind goes lots of places when performing these songs," he says. "Sometimes I go back in my mind to the hospital. I can see her eyes when I sing 'Lines'. Sometimes I can feel her very close to me when I sing them. Other times I'm very focused on the audience and on trying to get them to realize what story is being told in hopes that they will tell me theirs."
No one would blame Furr for breaking down on stage while playing the songs that nightly remind him of his wife, but he's taken a different route thus far.
"I have not cried while performing these songs, which is a very strange thing to me," Furr admits. "I just feel closer to her, and to others, when I sing them and that connection keeps me from breaking down I think. They are melancholy songs for sure, but they are also very full of joy at the love I got to experience with her."
The profound notion that life is precious is only simplistic and cliché to those who haven't watched someone slip away from it. It's a bittersweet truth that Furr faces every day. The unknown nature of what awaits us all from one day to the next powers him as he continues telling his and Christina's love story,
"I hope I'm calling attention to the fact that you and I have no idea how long our bodies will keep working for," he says. "We should be savoring every experience while they are. She had 27 absolutely beautiful and life-filled years on this planet, three of which were spent with me and totally in love, I hope that is communicated in Trails and Traces.
"She had a toast written on our refrigerator that we used at dinner and when we had friends over," Furr continues. "It says, 'To the world, which belongs to those with tongues to taste it.' It means tasting love, it means tasting the happiness of marrying your best friend, yes; but it also means tasting grief and loss, and then being honest about that."
The intimate, vulnerable nature of these newest songs hasn't kept him from playing them to a possibly rowdy bar-crowd. But Furr does cite the ethereal, yet epic "I Remember You," as a "gut-wrenching song, whether you're singing it or hearing it," and admits that he may not play that specific number at certain times, depending on how he's feeling and where he's playing.
Thankfully, most people who lose someone close manage to get through the days of total grief, eventually gaining an ability to remember the fun, heart-warming moments shared with the one who is no longer here. Initially, Furr wasn't sure the songs he wrote by Christina's side as she lay ill should be turned into something for public consumption, something so bold as a new record. But a dear memory of something she said to him before cancer entered their lives willed him to offer up this immensely moving journal into a life was lost, and a love that remains.
"I did have concerns, some very strong ones, in fact." Furr says about making available these most personal of songs. "What finally made me okay with the whole thing was this: She told me very clearly, early in our short marriage, to never stop singing. She loved that I do this. So why would I let this stop me? That would only be saying that the love she gave me wasn't enough to keep me going. Everyone will go through this experience at some point and I wanted to tell our story so others would feel okay sharing theirs."
Through the pain, joy, questioning and conflicts of Trails and Traces, Furr is comfortable with perhaps the lone, indisputable truth this life offers.
"Death will come to everyone; it's nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. I'm not embarrassed to tell this story anymore."