by: Thomas D. Mooney
“Put a score on the board for the humble folks.”
Last month, I did an In Profile on Flatland Cavalry featured in Lone Star Music Magazine. During that sit down with Cleto Cordero, Flatland Cavalry’s lead vocalist and chief songwriter, he mentioned how he hoped the material making its’ way onto Humble Folks would make people realize he wasn’t “The ‘Summertime Love’ Kid” anymore–or at least he wasn’t just that.
On their sophomore release, their first full-length, Cordero does his best to shake the pigeonhole-typecast scenario. Still, there’s plenty of that same young & dumb love and love loss flowing on the 11-track record to feel like the growing, mature companion piece to Come May.
If anything, on Humble Folks, Cordero has the room necessary to stretch out completely and expand his heartache heavy world. In addition, he adds broke-in Desert-Meets-the-Panhandle vignettes to balance the load.
As much as there’s maturation in Cordero’s lyricism and a growing confidence in his West Texas drawl, Humble Folks’ love songs further the loose narrative set in Come May. Like Come May, Humble Folks opens up with “One I Want,” an airy, crisp, and light song about falling in love, before falling into regretful daydreams and callbacks.
The lead single, “February Snow” marks that coming of age for Flatland Cavalry–the so-called antithesis of “Summertime Love.” It’s here those jets of gentle, cool summer breezes turn into the blistering cold fronts of a winter left alone. This darkness creeps into Flatland’s and sets a mood for much of the album tone.
The songs “Tall City Blues,” “Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson),” and “Devil on My Back” complete the trio that serve as the album’s backbone. Here, Cordero buries himself into characters looking to run–from the mundane, the law, and from those habits too tough to kick.
They get a boost on “Coyote” with the sighting of William Clark Green singing half the verses. It’s a dusty, worn tale where Cordero’s guitar shakes the dust with every shortened strum.
The band surrounding Cordero–Reid Dillon, Laura Jane, Jason Albers, and Jonathan Saenz–find and work out grooves that feel like old abandoned horse trails in deep West Texas. They don’t just serve the backdrop of Cordero’s character sketches, but rather, they push the narratives into dark country and folk.
They’re the devil’s hounds chomping at Cordero’s heels. They’re the shimmering office buildings and the oil boom when it goes bust. They’re the shaking of a mesquite tree revealing the Feds.
Perhaps the crowning achievement on Humble Folks is the West Texas anthem “Stomping Grounds.” Under its’ bonfire glow, Shiner Bock gulps, and Waylon Jennings references, there’s a love song in there.
“Bring a bottle of Tennessee for two, I’ll be pushing up daisies just for you,” Cordero sings on the barn burner. It’s a seasoned notion and line nestled in what’ll mostly be considered a drinking singalong.
“Should have kept my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t have to give you one last hug. Maybe then i wouldn’t be so fucked up” leaves all the cards on the table in the somber and sobering “Goodbye Kiss.” It’s the song that kept Cordero up at night and the one he finished for himself more so than for the album.
Oklahoma songwriter Kaitlin Butts joins in on “A Life Where We Work Out.” Cordero and Butts exchange verses of a life set in a parallel universe where, as you’d expect, their lives are still intertwined. For as cordial that sounds, it’s maybe as bleak as the overcast skies and snow drifts in “February Snow.”
The closing statement on for the album is the ringing “Humble Folks.” It not only serves as nod to those who’ve helped them get here–namely, their parents and family–but possibly as a hint of where they’ll go next.
The reverb in Cordero’s microphone and the sweet blend of guitars and fiddle bleeding into one another show promise of a band not finished and consumed with past–albeit, at this point, short–success of a sound tried and true. It’s not a full on kick of a door off its’ hinges, but the hinges are indeed busted.
Flatland Cavalry will have their first Humble Folks album release show this Friday at The Blue Light with Kaitlin Butts opening. Order Humble Folks on Lone Star Music here.
Exclusively listen to Humble Folks below.