John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He's performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour, a nearly four-hour marathon of concerts in miniature, held at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night. The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He's got a voice made for high ceilings, with swooping strains of Roy Orbison, radiating intimacy to match the crowd's pin-drop silence.
On April 12, White will release his second post-Civil Wars solo album, The Hurting Kind, and its lead single is a magnificent tearjerker about leaving home for the rigors of the road. At first, just a few seconds into "The Long Way Home," the template seems set: This is White's variation on Bob Seger's "Turn the Page," about a sensitive guy who misses his family while he's away. But then White strums into the song's central line — "I ain't leavin' / I'm just takin' the long way home to you" — and damned if the emotions don't come flooding in.
White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: "I want to do a song for you now that I'm really happy to say makes my kids cry." But "The Long Way Home" taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.