Category Archives: Panhandle

Interviews, news, and reviews on artists, songwriters, and bands who originate from The Panhandle of Texas.

September Exchange: Authentic, Genuine, & The Integrity of Songwriting Debate

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: Jeff Dennis is a singer-songwriter in Lubbock, Texas. As one of my good friends, we typically talk about music on a daily basis. While it’s commonly either through text message or on Monday Nights at The Blue Light, we’ve decided to make the exchanges of ideas and commentary into a monthly piece. Follow Dennis on Twitter hereGet an insight on what Dennis is listening to here on his curated Spotify Playlist, Rust & Reverb, here.

Thomas Mooney: Is Colter Wall genuine and/or authentic?

I didn’t know how to really start this off other than to just plunge head-first. The debate on genuine and authenticity of artists is a sprawling subject with no end or beginning.So, I just ask, is Colter Wall genuine and/or authentic? Is Tyler Childers? Aaron Watson? Jason Isbell? Sam Baker? Paul Cauthen? Does it even matter if they are?

I think more than anything else, the sincerity of an artist is what we’re both never wanting to know and desperately trying to learn. It’s essentially the whole “Never meet your heroes” thing because they’ll ultimately disappoint you. You kill the magic if you learn the absolute truth of a song or songwriter. But still, you want to some kind of validation.

Jeff Dennis: I ran a Twitter poll on this a while back (i.e. whether it’s more important for music to be genuine or authentic), and I got a mix of answers, yet many saw no difference between the two and others don’t seem to care. What it brings up is what authenticity in music really means. Do you really have to go to prison to sing about prison? Do you really have to have a hound dog and a Dodge truck to talk about letting the tailgate down for your dog to howl at the moon?

I think authenticity is perhaps a bit overstated. I might argue that we are looking more for artists to be genuine. By that, I mean, even if they didn’t go to prison, that they are making an earnest effort to tell that story honestly. Or do we have to limit storytellers to only tell the stories they have experienced? I see a distinct difference between authentic and genuine, and I’m not sure that most music fans care on the surface, but ultimately those play into our views more than we admit.

So start with Colter Wall. Young Canadian kid, channeling something along the lines of Johnny Cash, with a raw, folk-driven approach. Turns out his dad, Brad Wall, is the Premier (similar to a governor) of Saskatchewan and has been since Colter was 12. That fact doesn’t necessarily make him a “rich kid,” but it has to come with resources and connections. Given that, maybe he’s not authentic in relation to his lyrical content. But he can still be genuinely trying to tell stories and be true to his craft, right?

Townes came from money and Guy’s dad was a lawyer. Does anyone hold that against them? Rarely. But take some famous person who releases an album–Kiefer Sutherland, not only a famous actor, but the son of a famous actor–is there anything he could ever do artistically in music or songwriting that people would really take seriously? Is that unfair or just something we base off past experience?

TM: That’s an interesting parallel and comparison–acting. There’s plenty of similarities between the crafts of songwriting and acting. In essence, you’re trying to tell a story with both. Every year, we praise those who gain or lose 50 pounds for a role and go full method. People went ape-shit when they learned Leo DiCaprio slept in animal carcasses and ate bison in preparation for The Revenant. In part, that’s what finally earned him an Oscar. But still. Ultimately, everyone knows actors are, no matter how hard they try, are pretending.

Songwriters, on the other hand, they can make those lines as blurry as they see fit. Townes came from money. But he also lived in trailer houses, became an alcoholic, and was pretty much an asshole in every sense of the word. We applaud him for writing “Lungs,”  “Nothin’,” “Tecumseh Valley,” “Waiting ‘Round to Die” and so on. It was genuine, sincere, and many times, authentic. He put himself in that position for the benefit of writing some dark, depressing, and haunting songs. It was all or nothing. He couldn’t–or maybe wouldn’t–do it any other way. It’s not as simple as how I’m going to frame it, but in many respects, he did that for us, the listener.

He may have thought we all wanted authenticity. He may have thought that’s what made the songs. But like you mentioned, what makes those songs is the sincerity and genuineness. You can fake the rest and it be OK–for the most part.

The largest sentiment among the songwriter community is to “write what you know.” You hear it from everyone. It may be the single idea that everyone from Jack White and Jerry Jeff Walker to Evan Felker and Eric Church. I think what that means is to write with conviction, write with sincerity, write about something that personally moves you. But, how often do you think an artist is full of shit? How often do you think a songwriter is out of his or her depth? How often are you questioning an artist’s motives?

JD: Yeah, Townes put everything into authenticity, and one wonders if the addiction and despair he suffered in that experience should be necessary to write about the depths of despair. He created a mythology, no doubt, but was it worth it for all the people in his life?I think songwriters look to tell a story in a genuine way, but we let marketing overplay the authentic side. Chris Knight is a well-respected writer who I’ve heard many give more credence to for being authentic. “He worked in the coal mines. He’s the real deal.” Yes, that’s true to an extent, but he was a mine inspector with a college degree. The truth is, our country has long depended on storytellers to tell the stories in an accessible way, often when they didn’t experience the event themselves. In my mind, you’ve got to be close enough to understand it but removed enough to have perspective on where it fits in. Guthrie, Dylan, The Boss, Guy, etc. found ways to tell stories of people who wouldn’t have had the words to tell their own story nearly so eloquently.

The other side of authenticity, from my viewpoint, is about who has paid dues. There’s a lot of back and forth about Midland right now. They’re virtual unknowns, one with a modeling background, and seemingly a lot of money behind them. Further, they’ve got songwriting help on their record from some of the biggest names in music (Osborne, McAnally, Akins). In fact, those writers have been cogs in the Bro-Country wheel previously. Midland is playing real country (or their backing band at least), and are riding a wave of the “old” industry model, where the money goes in before you get big. Yet, I sense tons of resentment about their slick look/sound, because they didn’t make their name by paying dues at the Lone Star Bar in Midland. Have any of them been to Midland? I’m not sold myself, but in a world of Bro-Country, it could be a lot worse. But when you consider that their cowriters are also partly responsible for “Body like a Backroad,” suddenly a million red flags go up.

TM: We may have been too quick with calling Koe Wetzel the most polarizing artist in Texas. It can easily be said for Midland. I’ve flip-flopped on them a million times. I think it’s funny. They’re playing a different brand of country that’s not been seen in “Top 40 Country” in a good, long while–but the root of what’s bothering people is people questioning how genuine they truly are. And it’s their own fault. Whichever machine is behind them, they’re pushing the narrative that feels forced and contrived. Folks who are anti-Midland feel like they’re being manipulated into believing that this trio has played every honky-tonk in Texas for years before being discovered–paying their dues. 

The frustration with Midland is just how avoidable this could have been. People think the industry is trying to pull a fast one by them. They could have picked any other state than Texas (or those bordering) and could have been in the clear. Every honky-tonk in Arizona and Southern California? Done! In Montana? That’s good! Brooklyn and Queens? Fuck YES! But Texas? No one in Texas who has even remotely been paying attention knows there’s something fishy going on with them. But maybe being from Texas makes them authentic for the other 49 states and that’s actually all that matters.

As you mentioned, their newly announced album has a stable of professional Nashville songwriters all over it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been an apologist of sorts for some of the Nashville writers–this is totally different from Nashville artists–because I think they’re proficient songwriters. They know how to craft a song. I’m 100% sure McAnally, Akins, Osborne, Laird, etc all have back catalogs of amazing songs. They just don’t have the same desire and/or powerful voice to make a transition back into performing like say…Chris Stapleton?

(I know. I’m going off into the woods here with this, but I promise to wrap back around and get on course again.)

And sadly, they probably don’t have the power to change the system at large. If they don’t write the bad songs on the radio, someone else will and they’ll be out a job. It’s a long-winded way of saying, I understand why they have to do it, but it doesn’t mean any of those songs are genuine or sincere–or authentic for that matter.

In saying that, Midland at least sounds better than Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia-Line, right? I’m not listening to Midland the same way I’m listening to Guy Clark. So they do get a little bit of leeway. Albeit, in a roundabout way, it also means they don’t get as much respect, appreciation, or my time.

As a result, the songwriters you admire, you ultimately hold them to a higher, regimented code.

JD: Midland is the polarizing band for people who really care about music because I don’t think your average fan really cares much about them. On the surface, they look to be fairly talented, they have good songs, and they’ve got some style. Once you peel back the layers and watch some live performances, that doesn’t fall apart, but they just don’t play like they put their sound together playing four-hour sets in dive bars. The Hayes Carll model of playing four-hour shows at crappy sports bars on the Bolivar Peninsula, where you work out a whole lot about who you are.

So I’m conflicted. As we’re saying, they may be an Industry creation, but at least the industry is trying to create a country band at least this time. Deep dive here, but I was listening to the Cowboy Crossroads podcast, by our friend, Lubbock songster Andy Hedges, and his interview with songwriter Tom Russell. Russell is best known for writing “Gallo del Cielo,” truly a brilliant song, but he’s also a fairly established performer on the cowboy circuit, which is its own thing mostly outside of the folk or country scenes. Two things stand out in relation to our discussions of Midland. First, Russell talks about how he really cut his teeth playing eight-hour shows in strip clubs and some of the roughest joints on the continent in Vancouver. EIGHT HOURS. There’s plenty of bands who have to stretch into a couple of boring jams just to make their contractual 75 minutes, and they still stop at about 68 minutes or let the frontman do an acoustic song (i.e., the band doesn’t know it).

What was also great though was how straightforward he was about not being a real cowboy. He’s a songwriter who has written some cowboy songs, but the great account from that podcast is about how he was scared of the real cowboys the first time he went to Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering, because he said “they could smell horse shit a mile away,” and “you’d get the shit beaten out of you” for acting like you know more than you did.

All that to say, there’s a lot more Cinch and Cactus Ropes cowboying going on in country music than there is actual cowboying, but in the end, it’s unrealistic to think country music is going to be done only by authentic country people, but rather, that it needs to be genuine. Merle Haggard was a writer who had plenty of interesting experiences, although he certainly didn’t live them all, yet he just found a way to be genuine and honest about his subjects. We get so caught up in Texas/Tennessee/California country, etc, but the greats are the ones who are trying to tell people’s stories. I completely agree that the cast of writers you mentioned could write just about anything, and sure they are contributing to part of the “problem,” but someone else would just fill their place if they didn’t. Lori McKenna is a writer who is well-respected in Nashville, writes for some of the biggest mainstream artists, yet seemingly has no ill will toward them, despite the fact that her own albums are everything that mainstream country is not. The Bird & The Rifle was one of the best albums of the past five years, but the big radio songs that pay her bills are ultimately what allows her to make that record.

I get irritated at the people overanalyzing Zac Brown’s covers of Jason Isbell. So much of “how dare he” and “Jason’s version is so much better.” Of course I think Isbell’s versions are better, but despite the fact that he is one of the biggest Americana artists today, Brown’s audience far bigger. And so Isbell gets recognition, gets royalties, and gets some exposure to new fans. Why is it bad in any form? People still think Willie wrote “Pancho & Lefty.” What can you do? It’s the life of a songwriter.

TM: The Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering and circuit is an interesting dive. Those folks are about the story. They’re about a way of life. Fully invested into preserving the ways of the American Frontier–even if they’re a dying breed. You can’t really speak in absolutes, but for the most part, they all are very genuine about their work and craft. A lot of them are also very authentic. They’ve made a life out of living on a horse. It’s dear to their heart. As an effect, there’s a healthy amount of pretentiousness that comes with it. It’s a small group banded together.

(Also, I didn’t know where to fit this in, but I think it’s an interesting point on the Cowboy Poetry circuit. The most famous, most identifiable individual in the lot is Ramblin’ Jack Elliott—who was raised in Brooklyn and the son of a Jewish doctor. Despite this, he’s been rather outspoken about fake folk singers. He’s another TVZesque figure. Worshipped by generations of folk songwriters. When it comes to being an American Storyteller, he’s as iconic as Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Dylan, Springsteen, B.B. King, and Cash. Despite this, he was an irresponsible father and husband. Calling him a deadbeat may be slightly too harsh, but you certainly get that feeling after watching the documentary The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, which was done by his daughter, Aiyana Elliott.)

The polar opposite of the Cowboy Poets has to be Cowboy Crooners of Country Music. They have large crowds and folks singing their generic choruses along to the radio. Plenty of Coors Light being crushed. King’s Ropes may be selling more flat-bill caps than actual ropes these days. I feel it’s primarily made up of a crowd who’d chastise Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” not seeing the irony.

OK. Let’s get to it. I don’t question, say Cody Johnson or Aaron Watson’s authenticity per se…but I do question some of their genuineness. It’s well documented that CoJo’s been a rodeo guy for a while now. AaWa has a ranch, etc. Their cowboyness is well documented and fully stocked. I’d even say they’ve written some good genuine songs–Watson’s “July in Cheyenne,” “Bluebonnets,”  for example. But, it feels as though a lot of their music is based on the idea of being a cowboy rather than being a cowboy–the image. To gain a wide audience, I suppose you have to water it down enough that it becomes universal rather than unique. It’s probably more of a commentary on their average fan than on them. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it feels more engineered than written from a genuine place. But again, maybe it is genuine, just mediocre.

It’s not just Texas artists selling the cowboy way either though. Nashville has Craig Campbell, Jon Pardi, Dustin Lynch, William Michael Morgan, and Justin Moore all trying their best to imitate Cowboy Country. It’s the cheapest form of it though. It’s cliche and trite. Shit like “Head Over Boots,” “Robbin’ Trains,” “Small Town Boy,” and “People Like Me” makes what CoJo, AaWa, Jon Wolfe, etc are doing sound like George Strait singing Corb Lund songs. It’s not authentic. It’s worse. It’s uninspiring and not a genuine take on cowboy culture, frontier life, or hard living in general. 

JD: It’s always good to create a visual that no two people will ever agree on for anything. So by all means, let’s figure out where Gillian Welch fits. Not unlike the cowboy poetry scene, there are plenty of genres than weight authenticity more than average. You’ve got skater punk, black metal, straight edge vegan punk, trap music, cowpunk (OK, kidding, that was just a failed name for alt-country). Regardless, those tend to be very niche scenes with little to no chance of breaking mainstream.

CoJo & AaWa have been successful at balancing that idea of having a cowboy lifestyle and selling their sound to people who live that lifestyle, but ALSO, to those who like to think they are cowboys at heart, despite being life insurance salesmen who drive a big truck and live in the suburbs. In the end, you can’t be the “Most Cowboy” cowboy ever AND a successful touring artist with a seven-figure tour income. But they have been very deliberate in finding where to settle between those two and are great at it.

Not sure where he fits in all of this, but this makes me think of Steve Earle. His early country records are worshipped in Texas, as though his last 15 years don’t exist. Yet the reality is that Earle has been an extremely outspoken left winger for a very long time. How did his authenticity/genuineness change from “Copperhead Road” to “John Walker’s Blues?” I think he’s always searched to tell genuine stories, and he’s pretty authentic in that I think he’s been pretty honest about who he is. Amusing that people ignore his authenticity so they can still jam to “Guitar Town.”

Alternatively, modern country stars don’t really take a hard stand on anything other than tailgates and boots and cowboy hats. Or in the much more distinctive Texas scene, on Texas and boots and cowboy hats.

Songwriters may not always be that authentic, but I think the ones I value are battling to tell a genuine and honest story. A little authenticity goes a long way toward telling the story more genuinely, especially when channeling the voice of someone in a different social position. I think trying too much for authenticity, sometimes writers get bogged down in the details and lose the spirit of the song.

Side note: Daniel Fluitt and I once tried to coin our own term for cowpunk/alt country, but “pounktry” never caught on.

TM: Back in the Spring, there was an LA Weekly piece about the 10 Lamest Americana Acts. Gillian Welch was put through the ringer, citing that she was New York City born, Los Angeles raised, etc. What the hell does SHE know about Appalachia blues? She’s singing with a fake southern accent. It felt like the list had been drafted by some scorned lover or some shit. Axes to grind. Grudges to be had. Yada yada yada.

While Welch may not have grown up next to a wood burning stove where her mother played minstrels on a washboard out in the Ozarks. But damn, she can write a damn fine song that cuts straight to the essence of the American spirit and human experience. It’s as earthy as one can get. She may not be authentic, but she certainly searched for that authenticity—or at least some sort of insight.

What makes a good songwriter? That mix of authentic insight, compassion (to actually understand where others are coming from), and being genuine. It’s like 10%, 45%, 45%. As you said, that little dose of authenticity can go a long way. It’s the difference between “Outskirts of Heaven” by Craig Campbell and “Southside of Heaven” by Ryan Bingham. I think most people can see the grit in Bingham’s. They can feel the dirt getting underneath their fingernails and the sun wearing down eyes. But one of these is on Billboard’s Hot Country chart and one wasn’t.

Another slice of this genuine vs authentic talk is the notion that Isbell, John Moreland, etc are lying to us if, A) they write sad songs, but B), aren’t in a depressive state at all times. Both have spoken about this. I think it’s kind of funny. It’s so damn ridiculous to think anyone who writes sad songs is in a depressive state. Even more so to think they’re manipulating us by not being.

Now, you can’t characterize Townes as a being solely a hopeless and sad songwriter (Even if I did earlier; even if he did too) because, well, people will remind you he also wrote “Two Hands,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “To Live Is To Fly,” and if you don’t get that, well, you’re missing a lot of what Townes did as a storyteller (OK. This was to just cover the bases because I know some Townes snobs out there). But regardless, he did have some great those about aloneness and loneliness: “Aloneness is a state of being whereas loneliness is a state of feeling. It’s like the being broke and being poor. I feel aloneness all the time and loneliness, I hardly ever feel.”

The reason Isbell, Moreland, [the writer of your favorite sad song here], etc is able to tap into a serious state of heartache, misery, and sorrow isn’t because they’re living in that state, but because 1) they’ve felt it before and 2) have the gift of communication. They’re well read and educated. They have the wherewithal to make it go from being an indescribable feeling to being a song that cuts you to the bone. The reason it works is that it reminds you of the sorrow in your own life.

JD: Ha! That LA Weekly piece was clickbait central. “Here are all the artists you hold sacred, and I’m here to tell you why they suck!”

Of course, we do get caught up in the charade of authenticity at times, and once someone passes as authentic, they can perhaps get away with a song that is a bit cheaper. Although sometimes I think writers just get bored and have to step out of that skin. Bob Dylan changes artistic directions twice before breakfast. I will not even pretend to love his many artistic stages, nor to understand many of them, but the man has pursued one of the most interesting artistic careers in history. Of the ’60s visionaries, while many died young, others settled into doing the same old thing, and a select few continued to be amazing artists. Neil Young probably fits in that category as well, although I’m no expert on him either.

Guy Clark wrote songs about what he knew for many years, but it has been reported that at some point, he tired of that and preferred having younger writers bring ideas to him that he could help flesh out. The role of the mentor, asking the hard questions about why your character doesn’t use the same voice throughout, and why your coalminer sounds like he has a BA in Russian Literature, that’s what made Guy Clark an amazing cowriter. Perhaps this is why his catalog is so impressive from start to finish. He didn’t stray too far, but he wasn’t afraid to do things differently.

As for cowriting more broadly, it has its downfalls. The Isbells, Morelands, and Barhams of the world just don’t do it much. But they are hyper-protective of their narrative. Cowrites seem to be more popular in Texas country, although cowriting culture really gets out of hand really fast. Everybody brings a bottle of whiskey and leaves with a major headache and no good songs.

Cowriting isn’t bad, and when done right and with a good mentor, you work harder to genuinely tell the story at hand. I know many won’t even agree with how we define authentic (is the person who they claim to be) and genuine (are they being true to the song/the art?), although in the end, the words we use don’t matter as much as the idea behind them.

TM: Right. I think the reason they’re the words to use though is that of that very thing–people disagreeing with their definitions. People have been using authentic and genuine interchangeably for too long. They’re not the same thing. But you’ll still find people describing artists as being genuine and authentic for the same reason when, in reality, it should be one or the other.

Agreeing on terms and concept is essential. If you can’t agree on the principles, how can you debate the actual artists?

This is one of those things that I think need a visual aide. It can be a dangerous idea, but hell, here’s The Authentic VS. Genuine Artist Guide (And don’t mind that it’s just a freehand drawing with a Sharpie).

It’s a lot to take in, but it’s essentially a normal plane you’d see in a math class. Four Quadrants. You have Genuine running left to right with Authentic running top to bottom. The further right, the more genuine. The further left, the less genuine. The higher, the more authentic. The lower, the less authentic.

You essentially have Five Regions. And since we’ve mainly been talking about Cowboy Culture, Frontier, Western, etc songwriting, I’ll just use some of those as examples.

I MAMG (Most Authentic, Most Genuine)

Think (1) Ryan Bingham’s Mescalito, (2) Corb Lund’s Losing Lately Gambler, (3) the Chris LeDoux discography,  (4) Woody Guthrie, (5) Michael Martin Murphey’s Geronimo Cadillac,  Red Dirt folk singers

II LAMG (Least Authentic, Most Genuine)

Think  (6) Colter Wall,  (7) Shane Smith & The Saints’ Geronimo, (8) Tom Russell,  (9) Gram Parsons and his many disciples,  (10) Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Modern Americana singer-songwriters

III LALG (Least Authentic, Least Genuine)

Think (11) Jon Pardi, (12) Midland, (13) Eagles’ Desperado, (14) Craig Campbell, (15) Justin Moore, (16) Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,”  The vein of Bro-Country who wear cowboy hats

IV MALG (Most Authentic, Least Genuine)

Think (17) Casey Donahew’s Double Wide Dream,  (18) Aaron Watson’s The Underdog, (19) Cody Johnson, (20) Jon Wolfe, (21) Early Blake Shelton, Modern Texas Country Radio

V Neutral

Think (22) Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ The Wind, (23) George Strait, (24) Roy Rogers, (25) Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger,  Early ’90s Country

I feel like this needs to be reiterated again and again. This has nothing to do with how “great” or “bad” an artist, album, or song is. This doesn’t take that into perspective. It’s just judging an artist, album, or song on how genuine and authentic it’s being. I guess we could add a third dimension or a color code, but hell, we’ll try to keep things as simple as possible with this first run.

OK. Let the hate mail begin.

Album Premiere: Jerry Serrano’s The Moon

Jerry Serrano. Photography by Gerald Salzarulo.

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Singer-Songwriter Jerry Serrano is possibly the most versatile musician currently playing around Lubbock these days. Over the years, he’s lent his talents on many albums and live performances from and by fellow Panhandle artists and bands. A lot of times, he’s added necessary accents and weight to projects with either his trumpet or vast array of keys, organ, and piano.

It’s been country, folk, Americana, jazz, rock. But above all, it’s been Panhandle.

The Moon, Serrano’s first effort as a solo artist, has been a long time coming for the Plainview native. After winning The Blue Light Singer-Songwriter Competition a couple of years back, Serrano began hitting his stride as a songwriter. It was a boost of confidence that allowed him to find his voice as a lyricist and artist.

Songs such as “Drive,” “Vintage Wine,” and “In View” all find Serrano weaving first-person narrative confessionals with crisp, smooth melodies. He bounces between alternative country rockers reminiscent of The Wallflowers (“Faded Reverie”), mariachi country crooners (“The Moon”), sad ballad swan songs (“Epitaph”), and hymnal lullabies (“Stories”) throughout. Still, a line traverses throughout that pulls the album tightly together. It’s well-worn and aged together without ever going far off the trail.

The Moon will officially be released Friday, September 08 with an Album Release show at The Blue Light on Thursday, September 07. You can exclusively stream The Moon below until then.

New Slang: This is your first solo album, but you’ve been a part of a lot of albums and projects, especially in these last couple of years. Were there any little things you picked up on in previous recording sessions, live show performances, etc that you thought “Oh, I’m going to try that out on my own album?”

Jerry Serrano: Little things. When I played with Thrift Store Cowboys, I always loved when Colt played the accordion. When it was time to record this album, I knew I wanted accordion on something. I was fortunate to have Joel Guzman share his talents on the title track, “The Moon.” On an Isbell song, can’t remember which one, there’s a slight amount of feedback right before the guitar solo, and I always thought that was cool. On the beginning of the guitar solo of “Faded Reverie,” there’s a harmonic that swells up to the solo at the beginning. Something subtle, but fun.

NS: You’ve been in various capacities in bands over the years. In recent memory, bands like Alma Quartet and The Goners, you’ve had a larger presence as lead vocalist. You’ve also played keyboards and/or trumpet with John Baumann, Erick Willis, Red Shahan, etc. Still, I think everyone likes to step out on their own and be the chief decision maker and focus on an album. What’s been your main focus on this album—what’s that statement you’ve wanted to say with The Moon?

JS: I wanted to tell many different stories. Some are mine, some are others I’ve known, some are fiction. Musically, I wanted to incorporate as many styles as I like with the songs still sounding like they belong together. I’ve made a Jazz album; now I wanted to make a songwriter album.3) The album overall, you’ve really honed in on a smooth sonic palette. The album flows really well. Songs stand alone, but there’s also a crisp, cool vibe throughout.

NS: The album overall, you’ve really honed in on a smooth sonic palette. The album flows really well. Songs stand alone, but there’s also a crisp, cool vibe throughout. There are not any songs that come out of left field and disrupt that flow. How long did it take to really find “the rhythm” of the album?

JS: I was very cautious of the use of space. Once I had that in mind, it didn’t take long for the pieces to come together. Sometimes in live situations, that space can make musicians uncomfortable and they’ll want to play a fill or melodic lick. Sometimes, songwriters will repeat the last line to fill that space. I like to let it sit there. Every song has moments where the instruments will hold a note or chord, or not play at all. It allows the listener to ponder the lyrics.

NS: As someone who’s familiar with an array of instruments, did most songs originate on guitar or keys? What’s more of a comfortable setting for you?

JS: “Stories,” “Ember,” and “Epitaph” were written either on the organ or piano. The rest were written on guitar. I find it comfortable on either, but when I get stuck, I’ll switch instruments and it helps give a different perspective.

NS: A lot of these songs, they’ve been tested out week in and week out at Songwriter Night, etc. What song did you see the most progression and change out of?

JS: “Ember” changed the most. I had been playing it for some time without a bridge and just felt like it needed something. I wrote the bridge the night before we recorded it and I’m happy with it now.

NS: “Epitaph” has probably the most emotional outpouring on the album. Your vocals feel like you’re almost on the verge of your limits. What kind of state did you have to get to, to really push that vocal take out?

JS: I had to think about death. Not from my perspective, but from someone who has lived a long life, but was not quite ready to go. If you were dead, what would you want to tell your family and friends but couldn’t? That’s what I was going for.

NS: A lot of songs, “The Moon,” “Drive,” “Vintage Wine,” and “Faded Reverie” for example, they all have these soaring choruses. They really push into these moments that revolve more so on your vocal delivery and melody than anything else. Those choruses feel like they come easy to you. Are they?

JS: I’ve worked on my vocals for many years. I used to get made fun of in high school because of my bad singing voice. Later on in bands, I would have these melodies and would either simplify or struggle with singing them live. It’s still a work in progress, but none of it has been easy.

NS: There are some quieter, more reserved moments on the album though too. A song like “Years” finds you really in a reflective state with stories about transitioning, growth, and maturing. I wanted to write a “time-travel” song. Young musician with dreams, years later alone at the lowest part of life,

JS: I wanted to write a “time-travel” song. It starts out with a young musician with dreams. Years later, he’s alone at the lowest part of life. Then, in the present-day, he’s at peace with life and life’s decisions. There’s no chorus, only verses. The same thing with “You’re Not the Same Girl.” I wanted to convey a sense of perpetuity. The song will finish, but the story doesn’t.

NS: “Stories” is almost lullaby-esque. It’s a great bookend for the album. How did that originate?That’s one of the oldest songs on the album. I wrote it when I was playing with the Goners (In View too). I was going for a Hymn-like melody. I wanted to write about how we are only temporary inhabitants of this land. The open plains full of Bison became rows of cotton. The trail to

JS: That’s one of the oldest songs on the album. I wrote it when I was playing with the Goners (“In View” too). I was going for a Hymn-like melody. I wanted to write about how we are only temporary inhabitants of this land. The open plains full of Bison became rows of cotton. The trail to dirt road, to paved road. We will all be gone eventually. Make it count.

NS: Going back to your experience as an auxiliary trumpet player, etc. How often does that affect a song when you’re first writing it? Are you thinking of how maybe a trumpet (or on this album, there being some fiddle, accordion, etc) fits within the song or are you focusing solely on the bones of the song?

JS: I only focus on the bones. Chords, rhythm, melody, lyrics. After that, I think about what will work. It can get overwhelming if I try to think too much when writing.

Turnpike Troubadours Listening Guide: A Primer

By: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief
Editor’s Note: A more formal and in-depth Listener’s Guide to Turnpike Troubadours will be released closer to the release date of A Long Way From Your Heart. Preorder it today here.

Yesterday, Turnpike Troubadours debuted the lead off single, “The Housefire,” for their upcoming album, A Long Way From Your Heart. In the opening lines, a familiar character, Lorrie, shows up. It’s made a fervent fanbase dissect their catalog more so than any other band in recent memory. Everyone’s an amateur detective looking for clues on how to get from Point A to Point Z.

When I had Evan Felker and RC Edwards on the podcast last year, a large portion of the conversation was about Felker, Edwards, and company deciding to create their own folklore. The idea that characters could pop up in cameo roles and as the main subject really was brought on by the songwriting duo’s love for novelists like Stephen King, J.D. Salinger, and William Faulkner.

Once the album is released, I’ll expand on this Listening Guide for the album and how it relates to previous Turnpike albums and songs, but this is meant as some sort of catch up course.

Lorrie: “The Housefire,” “The Mercury,” and “Good Lord Lorrie”
Jimmy: “The Funeral,” and “The Mercury”
Danny: “The Bird Hunters” and “Down Here”
Browning Shotgun” “The Housefire” and “The Bird Hunters”

When asked during the podcast and solo Edwards interview, both confirmed these connections, saying that they were the only ones so far. They added that they hadn’t been exploring this idea until they began writing songs for Turnpike Troubadours and weren’t interested in retroactively connecting songs between the three previous albums.

That’s really, really important. While it can be super-fun to look over each song with a fine-tooth comb and creating your own connections, they’re not exactly connected by the writers themselves.

It’s obvious when Lorrie shows up. She’s mentioned by name. There haven’t been any first-person accounts from her. The same can be said for Jimmy. Danny is slightly different. He’s in “The Bird Hunters” as a character and friend of the narrator and the narrator himself in “Down Here,” which it can be highly assumed as the response to the narrator of “The Bird Hunters.”

The connection between “The House Fire” and “The Bird Hunters” is slightly more speculative because the only real connection is the Belgian made Browning that shows up between the two. When I asked Edwards a few weeks about it, he said it was “something like that.”

Which, I’m assuming either means: A) The narrator of “The Bird Hunters” and “The Housefire” is the same, B) Danny is the narrator of “The Housefire,” or C) the shotgun somehow was passed along between the characters of “The Bird Hunters” and “The Housefire.” I think A and B are far more likely than C.

Personally, I don’t think the web of characters is spun as tightly as some have speculated. I don’t feel the “Burned out Bettie Page” of “The Funeral” is also Lorrie. I don’t feel the narrator of “Good Lord Lorrie” is Jimmy. I don’t think Jimmy is the narrator of “The Bird Hunters” or “The Housefire.” I don’t feel Lorrie is the woman who the narrator of “The Bird Hunters” is speaking about leaving. Etc, Etc, Etc.

(Mind you, I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun. I love the theories. Send them all my way at newslang.editors@gmail.com. )

Mainly, because Felker and Edwards haven’t mentioned anything of the nature. But also because Felker and Edwards liked the loose connections of King, Salinger, and Faulkner. They liked how the characters of King’s canon were loose connections, brief mentionings, and never fully woven together. If they truly wanted to give you the Lorrie narrative or the Jimmy narrative, they’d do it in virtually every song. These songs are meant to be a fly on the wall moments between long absences.

Now, those songs could very well be connected, but I think it’s really a long shot. Felker and Edwards just haven’t had the time to connect them all. This idea is fairly new. I think we sometimes get some false connections because the writers have their own voice, speaking and writing styles, branding, and lexicon.

This is meant to be outlandish and ridiculous, but hopefully to prove a point. Would it be safe to say that every song that Turnpike mentions having a shot of whiskey or bottle of beer is directly connected? Of course not. That’d be foolish.

What’s maybe being undervalued or looked over is simply the Felker Narrative and Edwards Narratives. I firmly believe both are characters in this TurnpikeWorld. They both have had plenty of songs come from their own personal experiences—for example, “Kansas City Southern, “Easton & Main,” “Fall Out of Love?” (Edwards), “Shreveport,” “7&7,” “Down on Washington (Felker).

“Bossier City” is a rough account based on an uncle. “Morgan Street” is based off a bar frequented in Tahlequah. “Blue Star” is based on another uncle. “Southeastern Son” is based on some cousins. What I’m saying is that these songs are still primarily based on Felker and Edwards.

Which, still fits within their characterization of Eastern Oklahoma. You must remember, Oklahoma is still the largest character in Turnpike Troubadours songs. Her landscape and history still drive the characters. Oklahoma is the force behind every single story and detail. Every song is a brushstroke. Oklahoma is the painting. Lorrie and Jimmy aren’t the stories. They’re just the harbinger for Felker, Edwards, and company’s larger, more important American story.

That’s what I mean by Turnpike creating their own American myth and folklore. Once they’re down with their masterpiece, you won’t look back and think of the individual songs, but you’ll view it as a whole. It’s not quite Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, and Davy Crockett, but it’s getting there.

Blue Light Fall 2017 Singer-Songwriter Competition Announced

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

The Blue Light Fall 2017 Singer-Songwriter Competition will be taking place this September and October. For six weeks, the competition will be the dominating highlight on Mondays at the storied Blue Light.

Like last year, the competition will again have five preliminary rounds (Sept 18, Sept 25, Oct 02, Oct. 09, and Oct. 16) with this year’s Finale being held Monday, Oct. 23.

The competition works as follows. 12 different singer-songwriters will perform on each of the preliminary dates. On those dates, after each songwriter performs two songs each, three songwriters will be declared winners of a spot in The Finale (Oct. 23). The Final Round will bring the 15 preliminary round winners together in a Who’s Who worthy night of songs. After each songwriter performs two songs each, an ultimate winner, a first runner-up, and second runner-up will be declared.

To sign up for this year’s competition, songwriters should be aware of the following rules:

01) Each songwriter will be allowed two songs. Songs shouldn’t be longer than five minutes in length.
02) Each song must be an original. Covers are not allowed. Co-writes are permitted, but you must highlight include who also was involved and who wrote which specific parts.
03) Each songwriter must provide copies of their lyrics for the judges prior to their performance. If you do not bring advance copies, paper will be available. Three copies of each song is preferred.
04) Songwriters must make their own arrangements with regards to their instruments. Acoustic guitars, banjos,  ukuleles, fiddles, keyboards, etc are permitted. Electric guitars are not. If you are unsure, ask us prior in an email.
05) You must play your own instrument. This is an individual competition.
06) Each night, Blue Light doors will open at 8 p.m. with music starting roughly around 9 p.m.
07) Each night, the order of the competition will be randomly drawn. At this time, Competition curator and host Jerry Serrano will remind you of these rules, along with answers to any additional questions you have at that time.

To sign up, you will need to e-mail us at newslang.editors@gmail.com with “Blue Light Fall 2017 Singer-Songwriter” as the subject with the following information:

Name:
Cell Phone Number:
Which Week You’d Like to Play:
Have You Participated In the BLSSC Before (Y/N):
Hometown/Current Town:
Current Band/Artist Page(s):

In addition, we ask you to submit at least one track of a recorded song. This doesn’t have to be studio recorded or an album cut. It can be just a demo or live track. It can be on Spotify, YouTube, ReverbNation, etc. You will then receive a confirmation email shortly there after.

Additionally, we’d love to go ahead and get everyone familiar with our intentions of creating a listening room atmosphere for these specific dates. This is ultimately a songwriter competition which values the craft of lyrics, storytelling, vocals, mood, emotion, and feeling. That essentially means giving the one performing our absolute attention and observation.

We’ll keep this page updated with how many open slots are currently available. Spots will be filling up fast, so don’t put off signing up.

You currently have roughly a month until the first Monday starts. One excellent way to start preparing is to show up at Blue Light’s Singer-Songwriter Mondays for the next four weeks to get acquainted with the atmosphere and the room. Again, Songwriter Night host Jerry Serrano will be there to answer any questions or concerns you might have.

Previous competition winners have been: Kenneth O’Meara, Casey Berry, Daniel Markham, Zac Wilkerson, Danny Cadra, Amanda Goebel, Erick Willis, Jacob Furr, Jerry Serrano, Zoe Carter, and most recently, Starfire On The Mountain.

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Hypotheticals That Could Happen, But Probably Won’t: Part I

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

I have this list. It’s a running tally of hypothetical things that I A) I think would be amazing, but B) probably won’t happen for any number of reasons. Every couple of weeks, I’ll elaborate on one. These, they’ll be music related.

Some people believe for something to happen, you must first speak it into existence. It’s probably why LaVar Ball always sounds like a loon. He’s trying oh, so desperately to speak his wishes into existence. I know. It sounds like some kind pseudo-black magic bullshit.

Hopefully, these will be more logical–than say, all three Ball kids making it into the NBA. Still, you’ll see why they’re flawed or even impractical.

This first one has been bouncing around in some form or version for a few years now. The current model is a two-parter: NOT ONE, BUT TWO TERRY ALLEN TRIBUTE ALBUMS. Why two?

You’re probably wondering, why two? Well, they’d go like this:

  1. Lubbock on Lubbock (on Everything). All 21 tracks from the1979 magnum opus recorded by Lubbock artists.
  2. Tomorrow’s Tamales: A Tribute to Terry Allen. A traditional tribute of non-Lubbock artists where songs from the Allen catalog excluding Lubbock (on Everything)–that’s the real kicker on here–are up for grabs.

Nearly everyone gets a tribute album made at some point. It’s not that it’s a boring idea or something–but with 1) Allen being the greatest overall artist to come out of Lubbock and 2) with Lubbock (on Everything) being revered by songwriters, musicians, and artists with Lubbock ties, it’s special. It’s its’ own entity. At this point in history, it truly is the Holy Grail in Lubbock Music.

To split up the album, wouldn’t do the 21-song, double-album justice. The only proper way would be to have it done as a single piece. LA socialites, Brooklyn hipsters, and Austin yuppies may disagree, but yes, Lubbock (on Everything) just means more in the Panhandle of Texas. What may be viewed as a novelty piece by the eclectic songwriting visual artist Terry Allen by others, is a series of vignettes and confessions that just hit home Flatlanders.

Men & Vintage Neon Signs

What would Lubbock on Lubbock (on Everything) look like? Glad you asked. Maybe something like this.

01) “Amarillo Highway (for Dave Hickey)” by Wade Bowen
02) “High Plains Jamboree” by Randall King
03) “The Great Joe Bob (a Regional Tragedy)” by Flatland Cavalry
04) ‘The Wolfman of Del Rio” by Brandon Adams
05) “Lubbock Woman” by Josh Abbott Band
06) “The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma” by Wade Parks
07) “Truckload of Art” Amanda Shires
08) “The Collector (And the Art Mob)” by Daniel Markham
09) “Oui ( A French Song)” by Thrift Store Cowboys
10) “Rendezvous USA” by Ross Cooper
11) “Cocktails For Three” by Benton Leachman
12) “The Beautiful Waitress” by Kenneth O’Meara
13) “High Horse Momma” by No Dry County
14) “Blue Asian Reds (for Roadrunner)” by Dalton Domino
15) “New Delhi Freight Train” by Red Shahan
16) “FFA” by Charlie Stout
17) “Flatland Farmer” by William Clark Green
18) “My Amigo” by Charlie Shafter
19) “The Pink and Black Song” by Rattlesnake Milk
20) “The Thirty Year War Waltz (for Jo Harvey)” by Hogg Maulies
21) “I Just Left Myself” by Veda Moon

Having only artists and bands from these last 15 years is paramount. Allen’s probably more relevant in Lubbock now than at any point in his musical career. These people listen.

It’s a solid mix of established (JAB, Bowen, WCG, Shires), up and comers (Flatland, King, Domino, Shahan), and Lubbock staples (Adams, Parks, Hogg Maulies, Shafter). Kenneth O’Meara, No Dry County, Rattlesnake Milk–well, practically the whole lot (we’re still slowly converting Cleto)–are diehards. They have the insight on why these songs are still as relevant in the Panhandle as the day they were written.

Tomorrow’s Tamales is much like Lubbock on Lubbock (on Everything). in concept. Artists from the modern era of music. For the most part, these folks have either covered Allen in concert, posted about Allen’s work, or folks I’ve  had conversations with about Allen. They’re not just darts thrown blindly in the dark. Though, there is a couple who I just think would sound great.

01) “Four Corners” (Juarez) by American Aquarium
02) “Wake of the Red Witch” (Bottom of the World) by Sam Baker
03) “The Heart of California” (Smokin’ The Dummy) by The Band of Heathens
04) “Flatland Boogie” (Human Remains) by John Baumann
05) “There Oughta Be a Law Against Sunny Southern California” (Juarez) by Ryan Bingham
06) “Rio Ticino” (Salivation) by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
07) “X-Mas On the Isthmus” (Salivation) by Kirby Brown
08) “Queenie’s Song (Bottom of the World) by Jonny Burke
09) “The Gift” (Bottom of the World) by Hayes Carll
10) “Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy” (Bloodlines) by Paul Cauthen
11) “Dogwood” (Juarez) by Ryan Culwell 
12) “Boomtown Boogie” (Chippy Soundtrack) by Dirty River Boys
13) “Cortez Sail” (Juarez) by John Fullbright
14) “Gonna California” (Chippy Soundtrack) by J.P. Harris
15) “Red Bird” (Smokin’ the Dummy) by Adam Hood
16) “Ain’t No Top 40 Song” (Salivation) by Jason Isbell
17) “What of Alicia” (Juarez) by Drew Kennedy
18) “The Night Cafe” (Smokin’ the Dummy) by Nikki Lane
19) “Angels of the Wind” (Chippy Soundtrack) by Lori McKenna
20) “Roll Truck Roll” (Smokin’ the Dummy) by Mike & The Moonpies
21) “Texas Tears” (Smokin’ the Dummy) by Old 97’s
22) “Emergency Human Blood Courier” (Bottom of the World) by K. Phillips
23) “Fate With a Capital F” (Chippy Soundtrack) by Margo Price
24) “The Lubbock Tornado (I Don’t Know)” (Smokin’ the Dummy) by Quaker City Night Hawks
25) “Our Land” (Bloodlines) by Reckless Kelly
26) “La Despedida (The Parting)” (Juarez) by Shakey Graves
27) “Cantina Carlotta” (Juarez) by Shinyribs
28) “Buck Naked” (Human Remains) by Shovels & Rope
29) “Southern Comfort” (Salivation) by Sturgill Simpson
30) “Give Me the Flowers” (Salivation) by Chris Stapleton
31) “Border Palace” (Juarez) by Texas Gentlemen
32) “Room to Room” (Human Remains) by Turnpike Troubadours
33) “Gone to Texas” (Human Remains) by Jonathan Tyler 
34) “Back to Black” (Human Remains) by Jamie Lin Wilson

Yeah. I guess that ain’t too bad. It’d be a double album–very much in the same vein as the stellar Guy Clark tribute, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. In either of these, you could go the route that includes Allen’s contemporaries and it’d be fine. Everyone from Joe Ely, The Maines Brothers Band, and Butch Hancock to Jerry Jeff Walker, Rodney Crowell, and Lucinda Williams would sound great here, but a cohesive coalition of this last wave of artists would be an even bigger statement. Allen’s legacy as a visual artist, songwriter, and playwright is that he’s made timeless art. It’s live and breathing. It’s as refreshing today as it was in ’79, ’89, or ’99.

While most now know Lubbock (on Everything) and Juarez, largely due to their recent reissues, Allen’s back catalog of Smokin’ the Dummy, Bloodlines, Salivation, Human Remains, the soundtrack to Chippy, Bottom of the World, Pedal Steel, etc is plum full of hidden gems, quirky ditties, rocking ramblers, and country ballads. Plenty of room for folks to spread their legs and experiment.

Probably the most intriguing choices would be Jamie Lin Wilson and Turnpike Troubadours–who could easily make both “Room to Room” and “Back to Black” into break-up ballads like their previous collaborative effort, the heart wrenching “Call a Spade a Spade.”

Folks like John Fullbright, Shinyribs, Hayes Carll, Lori McKenna, and Jonathan Tyler could stretch out into directions unlike anyone else involved. You’d want to see the piss and vinegar,  grit’n’groove flow on “Gone to Texas” by Tyler. “Cortez Sail” demands attention. As simple as it is, it’s complex with that transition. You almost have to be two artists–not necessarily two-faced–but Fullbright would be able to make an imprint with his solemn, mature delivery.

I could go on and on with reasons why whoever fits here and there. Still, as tempting it is to go on, justifying the likes of Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, Reckless Kelly, etc isn’t needed. They speak for themselves.

What’re the odds these are made? On one hand, I think it’s just a matter of time and money before someone pitches an Allen tribute. Practically everyone gets at least one tribute record one day. Hell–even getting 15 of those recorded and released would be an accomplishment of sorts. Still, Allen deserves more.

On the other, Allen’s work has only really been discovered by “the masses” these past few years. His fanbase has expanded recently, but it’s always been relatively been small in number. So maybe there’s just not been a demand. And tribute albums, in general, aren’t necessarily best sellers. They’re passion projects. It’s a matter of will. And if Tomorrow’s Tamales is a passion project, what’s Lubbock on Lubbock (on Everything)? A nerdy pipe dream passion project?

Even more likely is there ever being TWO tributes set up in such a way. There’s no way Tomorrow’s Tamales participants would want to be involved without the inclusion of some Lubbock (on Everything) songs. And who’d be telling prospective artists like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson those are off-limits due to Thomas Mooney’s wishes? Not even me. Probably.

But just imagine.

Hypotheticals That Could Happen, But Probably Won’t: Part II will be out soon and will be about concept albums that should be made by various songwriters and bands.

Album Premiere: Madisons’ No Man’s Land

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

“There’s a lot of ways to be lonely in West Texas.”–Roy Orbison

Everything ends up being romanticized. Often, West Texas is blown up to epic proportions. The land of a blazing sun and relentless wind. There’s a harshness to the weathered people. Everyone’s calloused, yet earnest. It’s as though a sepia lens has been thrown on along with a Ennio Morricone score.

And there’s certainly some truth to that. That’s one way to be lonely–that almost-fantasy world, it’s well represented. It’s everyday darkness that really kills hopes and dreams.

On No Man’s Land, the fourth album from Austin Indie-Folk outfit Madisons, vocalist Dominic Solis and company expand their world past the borders of West Texas more than ever before, but they’re still peeling the layers off the mythic West Texas, revealing a real-world darkness that’s bleak and full of disaccord.

Along with Solis, fellow vocalist Cass Brostad (who joined the band between their third album and No Man’s Land), explore a kind of self-deprecation that’s hinges on honesty in the most brutal form. The stories they’re telling are the kind you retell and relive in the moments before you fall asleep every night. They’re the kind that keep you up as you toss and turn. But where Solis and Brostad may have dwelled too long in the past as younger writers, they’ve found a way to work past it here on No Man’s Land.

Sonically, the band’s sound too has matured and aged with rich melodies and harmonies. Still, the band’s passionate, raw energy remains as captivating as ever. It’s still the driving force for the seven-piece.

On “Second Chance,” Solis starts off with, “I’m usually in good mood, oh and son, you would be too if you were as resigned to being born to lose–cause we’re all born to lose.” It’s very much in-line with his desgraciados, born-loser outlook that he’s had on previous Madisons efforts. But he ends with “I don’t want a second chance. I want to be forgiven and walk away,”–a sentiment seldom heard previously.

On “No Man’s Land,” Brostad echoes something similar with the sobering and weighty, “Sometimes you gotta die a little so you can survive.”

Still, there’s no better example of this than the sprawling narrative of “Basketball Practice.” At nearly 10-minutes long and more of a monologue than a song, it’s the band’s most experimental and artistic challenge to date. And while it may seem strange as an opener, it sets the table for the album.

The range of emotions Solis goes through on “Basketball Practice” is as wide-ranging as it is long. It’s raw, yet refined. And at times, it’s a difficult listen, but not because it’s cumbersome, rambling, or dull. But because it can leave you feeling dejected, dispirited, and blue. It’s Terry Allen meets Tennessee Williams.

So much of No Man’s Land is just that–fighting past the conflict, past indiscretions, slights, and well, the motherfuckers. Forgiveness may not be as cool as revenge or holding on to those grudges. But it’s what’s makes No Man’s Land their finest album to date. There’s some resolution.

No Man’s Land is officially out Friday, July 07. Exclusively stream the album in its entirety below. Order it here.

Song Premiere: Hunter Rea Band’s “Woman to Hold”

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

After releasing the EP Worrying Kind in 2014, Texas-Americana outfit Hunter Rea Band will be releasing Lovin’ Ain’t Free, their full-length debut, this Friday, July 07.

With singles “Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong” leading the charge, the four-piece–Hunter Glaske, Adam Rea, John Allen Davidson, and Mason Hightower–deliver a promising, smooth blend of Country Blues-tinged sunbaked heartbreak anthems with delicate, down-home heartfelt confessions. With Pat Manske at the producing helm, they were able to forge a temperate sonic palette that bends, but never breaks. There’s a consistency within the 11 tracks of Lovin’ Ain’t Free that allows the band to move off in different directions without ever feeling out of place or foreign.

For the most part, Hunter Rea Band’s Lovin’ Ain’t Free breathes the same crisp and cool air as the likes of Grady Spencer & The Work, Erick Willis, and Prophets & Outlaws–a Country-Soul base with a pop of contemporary Blues-Pop. At their best, they delve into foot-stomping Americana singalongs much akin to the likes of The Wheeler Brothers and Jamestown Revival.

Below, listen to the New Slang exclusive premiere of “Woman to Hold,” a gritty slow-burning duet with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant. We caught up with Glaske, Rea, Davidson, and Hightower this past week to talk about the making of Lovin’ Ain’t Free–which you can pre-order on iTunes here.

 

New Slang: Y’all released the EP Worrying Kind a couple of years back, but with Lovin’ Ain’t Free being your first full-length, it’s really like your proper introduction to people. How important has it been taking your time and really honing in on what you want to say with this full-length debut rather than jumping the gun and releasing something you’d maybe look back at as being half-baked?

Hunter Glaske: It does kind of feel like an introduction for us. The Worrying Kind EP was a big learning experience, and we still love playing some of those songs, but this album gives a much better look into who we really are and our style of music. We started recording this album while we were finishing up college. So between classes and graduation and work, we had to spread out recording dates to fit everyone’s schedules and day jobs. From start to finish, the album took about two years to knock out. We all knew if we could hold out and keep knocking it out song by song, that we’d be put out the best album we could, and we’d be proud of the product.

NS: You guys did this record with Pat Manske. He has quite the resume. What drew y’all to him and vice versa?

John Allen Davidson: The Zone was close to home for us, and we were big fans of some of the guys who had recorded there in the past–Robert Earl Keen, Walt Wilkins, Jason Boland, Ryan Beaver. But it wasn’t until we showed up that we could tell we were lucky to be working with Pat. He was with us from the beginning on Worrying Kind and became a huge part of our growth from Day One. He knew how to pull some stuff out of us that we didn’t even know was there, which was really cool. 

NS: Was there a specific album or artist he’d worked with before that resonated with y’all–something that you felt would highlight, elevate, and/or properly capture what you wanted with Lovin’ Ain’t Free?

Adam Rea: I remember when we were getting close to going to the studio for the first time, Hunter and I were on a huge Ryan Beaver kick and had his albums on repeat. Some of Beaver’s songs get up and go, and others hit you right in the heart. We knew that we had both types of songs that we wanted to record. Once we spent some time with Pat, we would hear about other projects that he was working on that started to inspire us as well. One was K Phillips, who had this great Van Morrison feel.

NS: It seems as though you all really enjoyed the recording process with this record. How much of the album was built while in the studio? Or did you guys walk in with clear-cut ideas on what wanted to happen on each song?

Mason Hightower: We would go into the studio with a pretty good grasp on each song, but would usually walk out with something that either turned out better than we imagined, or something that was totally unexpected. We wanted there to be some magical studio moments in there, and I’m really glad we let those moments happen.

NS: What song ended up changing the most–from original & early conception to how it’s being released on the album?

HG: “Memories” was one of the tracks that evolved the most. We found some lyrics that John Allen (bass) had been working on, but were originally put down to a slower tempo. It started turning into a jam every time we played it live, so we followed that direction in the studio. We loved it so much that we released it as our first single.

NS: In many ways, this album lends itself more towards closer to a country blues album than anything else—somewhere in the Prophets & Outlaws, Erick Willis, Grady Spencer & The Work, and Zac Wilkerson, etc realm. There’s a slow burn in songs like “Champagne & Roses,” “Dark & Light,” and “Woman to Hold.” Where’s that laid-back slow-moving groove come from?

MH: It’s really cool hear that, we’re big fans of each of those guys. I think it’s the product of each band member’s different styles coming together. Our rhythm section likes to keep it simple, while I have a more traditional country background, and Hunter has a this bluesy voice that seems to fit into whatever style of song we come up with. Those laid back, slow burning songs represent us both growing as musicians, but also getting older and singing from a different perspective.

NS: So far, the three singles released–“Memories,” “Find A Way,” and “Somebody Got It Wrong,”–all have these anthemic choruses with sharp guitars and crisp upbeat grooves to them. Feels like a lot of up-and-coming artists these days are picking up on the pop sensibilities and the crisp, clear, and refined vibe of artists like John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, etc types. Has that been an influence on the Hunter Rea Band sound?

JAD: Definitely. We wanted to have some songs that we could move around to and were fun to play live. It was fun to let Mason loose on those tracks and see what he came up with.

NS: A lot of Lovin’ Ain’t Free is really counting the missteps, miscalculations, and dead-ends in the dating world. Figuring out the difference between love and lust—and being on both ends of that. Is that, in part, what you mean by love not being free–that the trek and journey takes part of you along the way?

HG: That’s how we see it. When you’re roommates for six years like we were, you see each other go through a lot, and that became the theme of our album. Whether it’s falling in love, a relationship ending, or even losing a loved one, there’s always a sacrifice involved.

NS: Despite the album being filled with heartbreaker moments, it’s capped off with “Champagne & Roses,” which is filled with optimism, hope, and belief. Where’d that song come from?

AR: I wrote that song for my wife and for the day that I proposed to her. The band and my friends and family were all there, they helped me surprise her at her parent’s house. It started pouring on us while we were setting things up, so we had to make some last-minute changes, but it ended up going great. The guys took the lyrics and gave it this great acoustic direction that really rounded out the album.

NS: How did the duet “Woman to Hold” come together with singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant? Was it always thought of as a duet or did that come in later?

AR: We had been playing around with the idea of the song for a while and knew that a female vocal would be a great touch. My wife and Jane grew up together, so we’ve been fans of her music for a while. When we finally got out to one of her shows in Austin, we were blown away. That girl can sing. She agreed to come to the studio, and we co-wrote and recorded the track that same day.

Throwback Thursday: Waylon Forever

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

In 2008, Waylon Forever was released. Essentially, the eight-tracks are a collection of dated recording sessions done by Waylon Jennings and his son, Shooter, back in the late ’90s. These sessions were by all means, long forgotten until around 2007, when Shooter decided to dust them off and enhance the rough cuts with his band, The .357s,  himself, and a young producer named Dave Cobb.

It sure is hard getting old.

It’s even more difficult when you’re an icon, a leader of a movement, and the voice for a generation. Artists like Jennings, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Townes Van Zandt, etc they’ve all come to a point in their career when they, for a lack of a better description, become a shell of their former selves. You just can’t expect Springsteen to keep on making Born in the USA time and again. It only sets them up for failure. It only sets you up for disappointment.

Sports figures and Hollywood entertainers all can have problems holding on to their salad days and prime. Specifically, sports icons have trouble moving past their playing days and finding that second career. Actors–look no further than Sunset Blvd or action stars struggling moving past explosions and fight sequences (Looking at you, The Expendables cast).

Generally, they all hope to not become caricatures of themselves trading past jokes as some sort of novelty or nostalgic endeavor for the masses (Again, looking at you, the cast of The Expendables).

Sometimes, they go down that road a ways before the revelation hits them and they begin backtracking and finding their way once again. Late ’80s Dylan, current Dylan, Pre-American Recordings Cash (more on this in a second), post-Tattoo You Stones, basically everything from Elton John from A Single Man to Sleeping with the Past, Eminem since Encore, since Eric Clapton went Adult Contemporary, Jay-Z since Kingdom Come (with Watch the Throne being the exception), ’80s Neil Young  (with Re-ac-tor and Freedom the exceptions), and I think you’re getting the point. The list goes on. And sometimes, they just never realize at all.

With Jennings, you could argue that the vast majority of the ’80s and ’90s, was him trying to find his voice as a songwriter in a post-Outlaw Country world. While two of the three Highwaymen albums–Highwayman and Highwayman 2–were critically acclaimed and successful with the masses, Jennings solo albums struggled to make an impression with either groups (1980’s Music Man was Jennings last solo album to be certified Gold).

And that’s what ultimately makes Waylon Forever an interesting, experimental flash in the pan.

On the surface level, Waylon Forever is just Jennings recutting six staples of his ’70s prime. It’s  just rehashing. It’s looking for relevancy. It’s aiming to take advantage of our nostalgic self-interest. It’s once last hurrah stating, “I’m still an outlaw, goddamnit!” On the surface. A glance at the tracklist, it’s just those things.

Deep down though, Waylon Forever is Jennings having one foot rooted in the past and the other pushing forward into the unknown. Naturally, it’s Jennings revisiting those times he scaled the mountain but, it’s also acknowledging he isn’t the same individual. They were snapshots through a filtered lens. It’s Waylon, and eventually Shooter, searching for that next chapter for Waylon and “Outlaw Country.”

To give some context, the mid-’90s found Johnny Cash releasing his first two American Recordings albums with producer Rick Rubin–1994’s American Recordings and 1996’s UnchainedAmerican Recordings would go on and win the 1995 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Unchained would win the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album. The series as a whole (six so far) gave rise to another side of Cash.

(Side Note: Unchained also gave us this 1998 advertisement featured below.)

It was Cash as the elder statesmen. The American treasure. The voice of reason and storyteller of heartache and loss in the most tragic of ways. He wasn’t busting lights at the Grand Ol’ Opry or smuggling prescription pills in his guitar case. He was reflective, insightful, and recreating the way we look at the American songbook. He was showed delicate precision with those rough, tougher-than-leather hands. They were both gentle in instances, but ultimately brutally honest and firm when need be.

To a lesser extent–and less critical acclaim and success–Willie Nelson was doing much the same. He was recutting old songs, recording newly christened American classics, and revisiting old American standards and traditionals.

Now, I don’t think Waylon Forever does that (what Cash did on American Recordings). But, in fairness, Waylon didn’t really have the same opportunity to either. Only Waylon and Shooter–who was only around 16-years-old at the time of these recordings–knew/know the original intentions of these pool house studio recording sessions. I don’t think they were looking to duplicate  the Cash American Recordings blueprint by any means, but rather, were inspired by Cash’s reemergence as a force in country and American music.

As mentioned before, Waylon Forever is a glimpse at a What-If. The same could be said for Old 97’s & Waylon Jennings, another set of ’90s demos that found a release in the 2000s.

By no means is Waylon Forever perfect. At times, it’s strange, opaque, dense, and slightly too self-indulgent. But when it hit its’ stride, it’s as strong a representation of Waylon as an artist as anything found on Honky Tonk Heroes, Ladies Love Outlaws, Dreaming My Dreams, I’ve Always Been Crazy, etc. When Waylon nails it, it’s as heavy, harsh, and captivating as anything on American Recordings.

“Outlaw Shit”–a reworking of the 1978 hit “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”–is a sobering moment. It’s slowed down to a crawl. Haunting pedal steel, piano, and string arrangements are rich and full. Yet, it’s still sparse and leaves you feeling empty once finished.

The last gut punch is a final “out of hand” that’s more a conceding sigh than anything that coming after Waylon’s final run through the chorus. The mere fact that it’s changed to Outlaw Shit instead of  its’ toned-down Outlaw Bit predecessor says more than enough on its’ own. His vocals are worn and weathered with age and experience.

With the ’78 original, there was a tongue-in-cheek inkling to it. It was poking fun at the notion that Jennings and company were actually outlaws–something the audience probably took too serious during the ’70s.

The Waylon Forever version though, it’s insightful to the psyche of ’90s Jennings. It’s harrowing and desperate with a clear-eyed Waylon. It’s a cautionary tale from a man who’s seen it all.

Still, there’s some cumbersome moments–albeit, not for a lack a of trying. They’re certainly trying. They’re exploring uncharted territory on songs like the Cream cover “White Room,” the lone new Jennings song “I Found The Body,” and the Jennings Dreaming My Dreams standard “Waymore’s Blues.”

What they ultimately lack is a focused vision. But again, Shooter and company are only able to do so much with abandoned sessions from a decade before.

“Waymore’s Blues” feels too convoluted with Waylon’s vocals being layered and filtered. It’s suffocating in a way. “White Room” really feels tired. It’s the lone time in which Waylon’s vocals are tired or strained. And with “I Found The Body,” while it does have a thin-veiled silver lining to it–the howling pedal steel and slow burning groove–it ultimately goes too far down the “The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd rabbit hole.

“Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” “Are You Ready For the Country?,” and “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” are high marks, but are still definitely a tier below “Outlaw Shit.” They don’t take the same experimental approach as “Outlaw Shit” or “I Found The Body.” You don’t find Jennings as exposed, avant-garde, or innovative.

Still, they’re probably more a testament to Shooter’s vision, Cobb’s producing chops, and the .357’s playing ability than anything else. The guitars are louder. They’re more crisp with a sharp, thick blade than anything on the originals. They’re probably closer to what Waylon would sound like had he come up today than a statement.

But more than anything, you see the beginnings of what would ultimately become the sound of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which, is naturally also produced by Cobb. “It Ain’t All Flowers” is just a better, more focused, developed, and recorded by an artist in his prime rather than one on his last legs.

While Simpson has said numerous times he’s never really been highly influenced by Jennings, I think it’s safe to assume this project has had a lasting impact on Cobb, and to a lesser extent, the latest generation of songwriters–even if they’re largely unaware.

And in that way, in many respects, it’s as innovative and on the forefront as anything Waylon ever did during the ’70s–even if it’s not nearly as perfect.

Find Waylon Forever here.

Throwback Thursday: Windfarm Vol. 1

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

“Read almost any article about Lubbock musicians and it is hard to avoid cliché lines about the desolate dusty plains of the area or the rich heritage of West Texas music. While both of those factors may influence the new music produced by Lubbock’s original musicians, it is clear these influences do not manifest themselves in a uniform way. That is, there is no definitive West Texas “Sound,” which may be the reason for consistently innovative music being produced in the area. This compilation provides a look at the diversity of Lubbock’s original music. These are all the bands that either have ties to the Lubbock music scene, or currently call Lubbock home. Some of these artists have moved on to larger markets, while some use Lubbock as a home base for regional and national touring. Still others use Lubbock as a place to refine their sound and live show in preparation for more widespread attention. The original music scene in Lubbock remains small, which is why you may see any number of these musicians sitting on stage with another on any given night. You often hear that if you can build a fan base in Lubbock, you can make fans anywhere, as the market is small, and support for original music is not always easy to come by. We hope this compilation will increase your awareness of the diverse local music scene that West Texas has to offer.”–Jeff Dennis

In 2007, Jeff Dennis wrote that for a small, now out-of-print compilation that showcased that window of music being made in and around Lubbock. It was called Windfarm, Volume 1. While Dennis did write the liner notes and inspire the Windfarm name, the compilation was largely the brain child of singer-songwriter Andy Martinez, one time leader of alternative country rockers, Burn the Wagon.

NOTE: You can listen to Windfarm Volume 1 above on Soundcloud except for Charlie Shafter’s “Medicine Man.” Instead, listen to it here.

I don’t want to say 2007 was the only year something like this could have been put together that captured an era. But really, 2007 was the only year in which this specific list of songs could have come together and held some form of relevancy for the period.

The bands and artists–Thrift Store Cowboys, Dirty Charley Band, One Wolf, Lesley Sawyer, Jake Unruh, Anthony Garcia, Sleepy Horses, Jeremy Nail, Burn the Wagon, Daniel Molina, Chaffin-Poelings, Amanda Shires, Charlie Shafter Band, Andy Martinez, and Waiting to Derail–all were coming off albums that were released in the window of 2005 to 2008. In many respects, Thrift Store Cowboys, Burn the Wagon, Shafter, and Waiting to Derail/One Wolf (Daniel Markham lead bands) were all hitting their stride individually and collectively.

Still, you could argue that songwriters like Shafter, Markham, Garcia (now vocalist/guitarist for Lubbock duo Outlier), and Shires especially, wouldn’t become the artists they wanted to become until years later.

Yet, 10 years later, it’s fair to say only a handful of current Lubbock music fans–and musicians for that matter–would recognize more than a handful of names. It almost feels like a relic from the past.

This isn’t even a pretentious take either. It’s the reality that while a decade isn’t that long of a period of time, it’s also an eternity in most music scenes. Bands and artists get covered by the sands of time. Good bands. Great songwriters. They’re sometimes left in the moment. A new fad comes along. Life catches up. Etc.

Thrift Store Cowboys, One Wolf, and Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward.

Thrift Store Cowboys would release one more album, 2010’s excellent Light Fighter, before going on an unannounced and infinite hiatus (The last Thrift Store Cowboys show with three or more core members was January 26th, 2014 at The Blue Light during Daniel Fluitt’s going away party).

One Wolf would too release one more album in 2010–One Wolf II: Secret of the Wolf–before calling it quits. Markham would eventually move to Denton and release more than his fair share of albums and EPs since while other members would go onto being members of Brandon Adams & The Sad Bastards, The Numerators, and Rattlesnake Milk among others.

Shires went on to release another four solo albums since ’07 while contributing to numerous other albums from the likes of Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, Justin Townes Earle, and Todd Snider.

Nail and Garcia (again, through Outlier) have released albums in the last year. Shafter just finished recording his fourth studio album just weeks ago.

While Burn the Wagon would only release a self-titled EP and album (Born in Blood), Martinez would release two solo pieces, Race the Buzzard Home and Lies Romance Blood. Fellow Burn the Wagoner Jake Unruh would record an album called The Curse–though, that still hasn’t ever officially been released.

Again, bands who you thought were on the rise, they ultimately fold shop and move on.

Early show poster for Lubbock show. By Dirk Fowler.

Read the liner notes again. Had I said that was written anywhere from ’57 to yesterday, you’d probably say it’s a fair and accurate assessment of Panhandle Music. The tracklist would almost certainly be different. But the message, what Lubbock and Panhandle Music essentially is–and what it isn’t for that matter–would be all the same.

That’s what I find most interesting. These 15 weren’t largely influenced by the artists and musicians who came before them. Yet, they almost certainly come to some of the same conclusions that Terry Allen, The Flatlanders, The Maines Brothers, Bob Livingston, etc all came to in the late ’70s and ’80s. That same sad, isolating echo and the constant howls of the wind that effected Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis, Waylon Jennings, etc, they all materialized in that mid-aughts bunch claiming Lubbock. It visits them all the same.

As Dennis says in the liner notes, you’d see these folks share the stage with one another and often show up on each other’s records. It’s a web with connections going in every direction. For example, Amanda Shires played in Thrift Store Cowboys, played on the Martinez solo records (Race the Buzzard Home & Lies Romance Blood) as well as being the primary artist on her song “Keep it Close.”

While modern Lubbock is highly influenced by Texas singer-songwriters with a country edge, just a decade back, it was much more of an alternative country and indie town. There was a punk edge and grit–not only in sound and style, but also in terms of a more DiY attitude.

Bands like Old 97s, Lucero, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Drive-By Trucks, The Bottle Rockets, Alejandro Escovedo, as well as contemporaries like Cory Branan, Glossary, Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Monahans, DeVotchKa, Centro-matric, Whiskey Folk Ramblers, Deadman, Eleven Hundred Springs, The Lusitania, and many others were all highly influential in how they developed.

It’s almost as though they were influenced by college rock radio, record shop conversations, and dive bar circuits just as much as the clichéd lines of dusty plains and heritage rich with music and art.

Los Lobos.

Windfarm is a Polaroid. It’s a glimpse into the not too distant past. But, more than anything, Windfarm serves as a reminder that it can all be gone in an instant. Things are constantly changing. They fade away only to be unearthed once again decades later–if at all.

Hell, it took Terry Allen some 37 years to be as highly regarded and appreciated by folks other than die-hard songwriters, art aficionados, record collectors, and Panhandle fanatics. Even then, I wonder just how many fully appreciate his life’s work and aren’t just jumping on the wagon because it’s en vogue.

And that’s what’s perhaps the strangest thing about Lubbock Music, albeit, you could probably say the same about music from any region. They say you’re never a prophet in your own home town. Just ask Natalie Maines, Joe Ely, Waylon Jennings, the aforementioned Allen, Bob Livingston, or Lloyd Maines.

When I say TSC, One Wolf, Burn the Wagon, Sleepy Horses, etc were all hitting their stride and representing a high water marks of Lubbock Music, circa mid-00s, it’s not necessarily accurate to say they were fully appreciated or supported by the Lubbock market the way, say a William Clark Green, Josh Abbott, or Flatland Cavalry are now.

In part, that’s because Green, Abbott, Flatland, and any other applicable example found a larger audience quicker. It shouldn’t come to any surprise that there’s more people in Lubbock who identify as Texas Country or Texas Music fans than who identify as alternative country or indie rock fans.

But, a larger part is because those three (and others) have found an audience outside of Lubbock. They were called great artists by the masses in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin (and since it’s 2017, Spotify, Apple Music, etc). They were crowned as Next Big Things elsewhere.

I’d argue that artistically, the music of 2007’s Windfarm was both richer and more diverse than it even is now.

Outside of perhaps Buddy Holly, Terry Allen, The Supernatural Family Band (Tom X Hancock), Cary Swinney, or the king of outsider music, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Thrift Store Cowboys has been the most progressive outfit to ever make music in the Panhandle.

But I digress.

Nothing is certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if TSC–or any other on Windfarm (or say, a Brandon Adams, Wade Parks, Estelline, Colin Gilmore, Doctor Skoob, etc for that matter)–rises from obscurity, much like Allen’s ascension these last few years.


You won’t be able to find Windfarm digitally anywhere. No Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc (Though, there are currently TWO physical copies for sale on Amazon). But, except for four of them (“Black Yodel #1,” “It’s All Wearing Thin,” “Woman at the Well,” and “Common Man’s Son”), they’re available on the albums they originally appeared on. I’ve gone ahead and linked them below. Otherwise, you’ll have to fall into some luck at Ralph’s Records or bargain bins at Hastings.

As of 2017, there hasn’t been a Windfarm Volume 2.

Windfarm Volume 1 Tracklist

01. “Dirtied Your Knees” Thrift Store Cowboys
02. “Black Yodel #1” Dirty Charley Band
03. “Haunted” One Wolf
04. “Four In the Morning” Lesley Sawyer
05. “It’s All Wearing Thin” Jake Unruh
06. “Woman at the Well” Anthony Garcia
07. “Down (Heart Will Break Your Fall)” Sleepy Horses
08. “California” Jeremy Nail
09. “Ride the River” Burn the Wagon
10. “Common Man’s Son” Daniel Molina
11. “She Already Knows” Chaffin-Poelings
12. “Keep it Close” Amanda Shires
13. “Medicine Man” Charlie Shafter Band
14. “Born in Blood” Andy Martinez
15. “Streetsigns in a Junkyard” Waiting to Derail

Album Premiere: Grant Gilbert’s Lost in Transition

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Those early years of college can be strange days. You’re in this shifting period where you’re still attached to the steady, reliable hands of home and going out into the unknown of being on your own. In many respects, you’re still a child having to adjust to adult situations on the fly. There’s butterflies that wax and wane as you’re lost in the transition.

On Grant Gilbert’s debut EP, Lost in Transition, the Lubbock singer-songwriter is slowly, but surely finding his footing as an up-and-comer. Throughout the five-tracks, Gilbert traverses and endures varying degrees of heartbreak and heartache.

At times, it’s simple. It’s adolescent and youthful. They aren’t in it for the long haul and know it. Other times, like the standout “Time Well Wasted,” Gilbert’s not as light-hearted. There’s moments where maturity and growth supersede jealousy and envy.

Recorded at Mount Vernon Studios (Dalton Domino’s 1806, Benton Leachman’s Bury the Hatchet)  with a veteran cast of musicians (Jon Taylor, Brian McRae, Billy McLaren, and Lora Markham all appear), Lost in Transition, for the most part, has a robust pulse throughout. And while songs are most certainly fleshed out, they’re never too crammed, covering up, or distracting us from Gilbert’s storytelling.

Like with any debut, there’s hits and misses. There’s bits that you can nitpick. The chorus lines and the story arcs within the songwriting of Lost in Transition are strong and able. Overall, Gilbert–who’s still just north of twenty-years-old–has a strong launching point in the steady Lost in Transition.

We caught up with Gilbert earlier this week to discuss the release of Lost in Transition, songwriting, and his time here in Lubbock. Lost in Transition is officially out this Wednesday, January 25, but you can stream the EP in its’ entirety now below.

New Slang: You’ve been here in Lubbock the last couple years trying to juggle school and getting your foot in the door in the local music scene. There’s always setbacks and little breakthroughs when you’re trying to establish yourself. Has knowing that such a rich tradition of songwriters doing the same thing here in Lubbock been a source of inspiration when things have been tough?

Grant Gilbert: Yes, it has been a great source of inspiration for me. I look up to every one of those guys and feel honored just to be considered a Lubbock songwriter. I try my best to write the best songs I possibly can and always try to keep as much lyrical integrity as I can–to represent the music scene I am very proud to be a part of. There is no easy way or right way of going at this. We’ve been trying to find our way while now playing songwriter nights at the Blue Light on Mondays and playing gigs every chance we can. I listen to all those guys’ music, and I try to pick their brains and learn what I can from them to help me hone my craft. Having guys like we do in the Lubbock music scene is really great for us young songwriters.

NS: Feels like some things are starting to come together these last few months with you making the Finals in the last Blue Light Singer-Songwriter Competition and the release of this debut EP. But were there any times before then when you were beginning to get a little antsy and wanting to get a release of any kind out, even though it could have just been a collection of songs that weren’t cohesive or good?

GG: Of course. Going into the studio and recording, it’s something I have wanted to do since day one. We do have some recordings that were done on a very low-budget that were done in more of a demo style that were never released. Looking back, I’m thankful that they weren’t. I got very antsy at times and I’m glad I stayed patient up to this point. I’ve always been told you only get one chance to make a first impression, so I really wanted to make this first release a quality one, and one that I am truly proud of. I funded this EP 100% on my own and I’m very proud of that because it is paid for solely from playing shows. I took my time and tried to work with the best people I could to make this happen, and I think the timing is right and the songs were there we went into the studio and made it happen.

NS: A lot of these songs, they all deal with varying degrees of heartache. You’re obviously connected to each of them, but which still cuts the deepest for you on a personal level?

GG: “Time Well Wasted” is the one that gets to me the most–especially when singing it on stage. I wrote it during a time when I was truly feeling every word I wrote down on that paper. It is by far my favorite song to play every night off of the EP because it really does put me back in the place I was when I wrote it. To me, that’s the beauty of music.

NS: That song, “Time Well Wasted,” it feels like there’s some form of closure within it. It’s almost as though you’re walking away from the situation. Kind of the opposite of “Like I’m Your Whiskey” where you’re still holding on to any strand of a chance.

GG: Those are two very different songs for me. “Like I’m Your Whiskey” is pretty light-hearted. It’s one where you’re getting used, but you’re alright with it because you’re also getting something out of it. “Time Well Wasted” is one about how you gave it all, but you don’t have any regrets over it, and you’re right it does feel like you are walking away from the situation and looking back on it all. That’s exactly what I was doing when I wrote it. I put like “Time Well Wasted” at the of the EP just because I felt like it kind of wrapped up the whole little story of the album and brought it back full circle.

NS: Your buddy and fellow songwriter Dylan Price has been working around Lubbock as well. How beneficial has it been for the both of you being able to bounce songs off one another?

GG: Dylan and I have grown up together in every way since we were old enough to write our name to now. We’ve been playing shows together since we were 16. He plays lead guitar for me now and does his own project, playing shows on the side too. We are constantly writing songs and bouncing ideas off of each other, or helping one another in the scene. We’re roommates and always have a guitar around somewhere trying to whittle out something. I owe that guy a lot to be honest with you. He’s been by my side in some crazy situations and in some of the roughest dive bars you can imagine. I really like Evan Felker and he really likes John Fullbright. We look up to them a lot–so sometimes I just like to pretend we’re like them–just on a much smaller scale of course [laughs].