M. Lockwood Porter is a San Francisco Bay Area singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who makes tender, hard-working rock ‘n’ roll. With a reverence for traditional folk storytelling shaped by his youth in the heartland of rural Oklahoma, he’s a clear lyrical descendant of masters like Tom Petty, Jeff Tweedy, and Bruce Springsteen — but Porter ultimately captures the imagination with a sound that’s fresh, self-assured, and wholly his own.
Sisyphus Happy, out Oct. 14 on Black Mesa Records, is Porter’s fifth full-length, and it finds the artist at a crossroads. Written between 2019 and 2021, these songs encapsulate a time of seismic shifts both personal and global, as Porter grappled with the changing meaning of family and home: he split up with his longtime partner and moved back to Oklahoma. Then his father passed away. Amid his grief, Porter began to explore his spirituality, reconciled with his partner, moved back to California and got married, all against the backdrop of Trump’s tumultuous final year in office and a once-in-a-generation pandemic.
Amid the chaos, Sisyphus Happy — recorded by Porter alone, holed up in the home he made with his wife during the pandemic, and co-produced by acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter John Moreland — is grounded by an unmistakable feeling of peace. Vulnerable yet unafraid, world-weary but full of wonder, it’s the sound of a person who has stared into the void, faced some demons, and returned from the brink with acceptance and purpose.
While previous records have earned critical acclaim from NPR and Billboard, Sisyphus finds him working at a different, more confident level. As a songwriter, Porter has fully come into his own.
“I was reading ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by Camus at the tail end of working on the record, and it captured so much of what I was feeling: that you’re rolling this boulder up the mountain every day, only for it to roll back down again, but somehow you find peace in that rather than seeing it as pointless,” says Porter, of the record’s title.
“Especially living through such scary times, reckoning with the dissolution of the American Dream…it’s knowing that things aren’t going to get better overnight, but that it’s still worth it just to slowly chip away at what it is I’m meant to be doing while I’m here.”
Musically, after nearly a decade of building songs around a full band, Sisyphus Happy represents perhaps Porter’s first true solo album: he plays guitars, keys (piano, synths, Mellotron), and more; Moreland — a longtime friend and fellow Oklahoman — contributed remotely with drums, bass, and mixing. Melodies unfold in an unhurried way; pedal steel conjures the vastness of lonely highways; Porter’s vocals are wistful but sure-footed, an understanding companion in the passenger seat, carrying the listener home.
“It also feels like the album where I’ve given up on having a big hit album,” says Porter with a laugh. “I was just at home, getting very existential and thinking about mortality and the point of life, and trying to write personal songs to process everything I was going through.”
That intimacy, and the freedom it allowed, come through in full force on songs like “The Kid Who Ran Away,” on which Porter chronicles his relationship with his late father — eccentric and emotionally distant, the only atheist in their small town, a prolific letter-writer and a lover of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley — over a guitar riff reminiscent of the Traveling Wilburys. “Bought an old Camaro when I turned 13, said we could fix it up as a team / you meant ‘I love you’ in the way you knew, we both needed something the other couldn’t do.”
Elsewhere, Porter documents a profound moment of clarity about the love of his life, and what was and wasn’t worth sacrificing for some idealized vision of a music career. "I spent years on all those battles, now they don’t matter much to me / when your fragile self just shatters, then you’re half the way to free,” he sings on “I’d Like To Take You With Me When I Go.”
Ultimately, the sentiment of mourning the past while turning bravely toward an uncertain future will likely resonate with just about everyone after the past two years: “The twilight of my salad days, the feeling that I just might raise a garden, the feeling that my life is finally starting,” Porter sings on one of the record’s most bittersweet campfire songs.
“They say the old is dying, the new is not yet born, so I’ll sit here in the dark before the morning.”