The Apprentice - An American Portrait (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Apprentice

An American Portrait (2005)

Future Destination

When I was much younger and living in Florida, my family decided it was a good idea to all get year-long passes to Disney World. For those who don't know, this means you pay x amount of money, and could if you wanted to, visit the park every single day for a year without paying anything additional on entry. Now, for an 11 or 12-year-old kid, there really is nothing better than being able to take a two-hour trip to "The Happiest Place On Earth" every month or so. I don't remember which park it's even in, but one of the rides that always stuck out for me was the Carousel Of Progress. You'd sit in a rotating theater type setting, and animatronic people would give you narratives about their time period; boring as hell when you're 11 years old, as the evolution of the American family just isn't as cool as Pirates or Splash Mountain.

Kentucky's the Apprentice have their own take on the American family, and it's hardly in as sunny of a disposition as those robotic figures telling you about life in the 1940's. An American Portrait is a concept album in its truest sense, but don't let that description be limiting, because the concept here has a whole lot more gravity to it than a science fiction comic book recorded in a sound studio. The concept is just as the album title suggests: A family portrait, only this family starts accidentally, and only 18 years after the husband and wife were born. The narratives come at you from all different directions, with husband, wife, son, and daughter all having respective songs told in their point of view. A narrator also handles two of these songs, giving perspective to various cultural issues that affect the American family. Everything from the worship of pop culture icons to the frivolous nature of not only the family, but the American public. But it's the words of the family members that hit the hardest; "Your memory went with the smoke / You could never be the man I wanted," and "I met a boy who told me he loved me / And I pretended his words were yours" represent the feelings of the daughter and wife, respectively.

Main songwriter Eric Delong handles about half the album's content by himself, with only an acoustic guitar and a piano to aid on the troubling lyrical matter. The themes of the husband range from regret and indecision to a new found understanding. A lot of the darker though not necessarily slower-paced ones come from the father's introspection, and the lyrical content directly reflects that, such as in "Whiskey And Cocaine:"

I marveled that I was still alive, because I was on a mission with every intention to die / It was the hotel maid, I said ‘come on inside' / She says ‘you caused quite a stir mister, is everything alright?' / I said ‘ah, sure, everything is fine' / And for the first time in my life, that is not a lie / I know there are many bottles here where we stand / I had a brush with death lady, and now I understand you gotta take this life / Just like Johnny Cash said, ‘listen to me, you gotta let that cocaine and whiskey be'
Delong's voice has a strong conviction, be that when he's all alone with an acoustic guitar or with the other two members of the band backing him up, the lyrics of each song fits their pace. The trials, struggles, and inner thoughts of each member of this family prove to be a great driving force for this record, which is able to grip you without ever being forceful. The thoughtful lyrics and simple song structures are a great combination, and one that produce more subtleties than overtly challenging songs, and that's just how a record like this should be. The songs are simple and heartfelt, and emotional without ever feeling the least bit contrived. I'm not usually one for concept albums, but when a concept this strong is able to fluidly be built on, than I'm all for it.

When I was little, I was always terrified of Spaceship Earth, because I thought a terrifying roller coaster in the dark was what was inside, much the same way being that age allows you to hold the belief that every family lives a picture-perfect life. While as you grow older, it becomes more and more obvious that's the case, there are still uplifting messages to be found no matter you're situation, and that's just what you'll find here.