Category Archives: Premiere

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.

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.

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].

Greg Vanderpool Announces New Album

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Singer-Songwriter Greg Vanderpool has announced Pilot, his second solo record, will be released April 06, 2017. Vanderpool, once leader of alternative country and indie outfits Milton Mapes and Monahans for the better part of the past decade, released his debut solo album Rescue Letter in 2014.

The former Lubbockite recently shared “To Violet,” a growing, drone-infused song that teeters between being a lo-fi anthem and a lost letter for the future. Like much of Vanderpool’s catalog, he taps into the desolate soundscapes of Texas and The West at large.

Listen to “To Violet” and B-side bonus, “For the Broken Family Band,” below.

Pilot Tracklist

01. Be My Eyes
02. To Violet
03. Empty Words Don’t Need To Lie
04. Nowhere To Land
05. Pilot
06. Burying Ground
07. All Your Steps Are Wired
08. Do You Hear It Calling You
09. The Wind Is Alive
10. The Opposite Of Shadows

Video Premiere: Natalie Schlabs’ “Drowning In The Wave”

schlabs2by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Last Friday, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs released her first full-length album, Midnight With No Stars.

Midnight finds the West Texas native traversing the ups and downs of your late 20s–immense moves in location, relationships, and family roles. It’s a maturation and growth that we typically gloss over as being for the better and an easy transition.  Schlabs doesn’t necessarily turn that notion upside down, but she does show how it’s not that black and white or simple.

The candid intimacy she reveals on tracks such as “Every Word” and “Where Am I Gonna Go” shows a rugged truthfulness we often save for conversations with ourselves. Schlabs soothing vocals echo the refreshing  and honest notion. Songs like “Throw a Spark,” “The House is Burning,” and “Midnight With No Stars” has Schlabs pulling back the layers of being in relationships. She spends time showing both sides of a relationship and how that not only affects you, but how it affects the other involved.

For the first single, “Drowning  In The Wave,” Schlabs and company drove down to Atlanta and worked with music video director Ben Rollins.

“We were playing in front of these huge projectors. While we were playing, they were showing pieces and pictures of my family,” says Schlabs. “It was kind of a weird emotional thing for me–being surrounded by these memories in this dreamy state of the music video.”

We caught up with Schlabs last week to discuss the making of Midnight With No Stars. Find it on iTunes here. Watch the music video premiere for “Drowning In The Wave” below.

New Slang: Midnight With No Stars was released this past week. Take me back to when you first started writing for the album. How long ago were the first songs started?

Natalie Schlabs: I started writing this record last summer. I had written a few songs that ended up on the album the year before or something, but most of the album was written last summer. It was basically started by me reaching out to some songwriters in Nashville. I was really scared to [laughs]. But asking them to co-write. I ended up asking Neilson Hubbard if he’d produce the album. We started writing every week. Basically, Neilson suggested we start tracking the songs. That’s really how it came about.

NS: There’s a real crispness to the album–a very cool, calm, and refreshing vibe. Was that something you intentionally wanted these songs to be?

Schlabs: I think it was the desire to have the album centered around my voice. Neilson thought it’d be important to center everything around my singing. When we started out recording, it was myself, Neilson, and the guitar player. It wasn’t until later that we added everyone else in–even the drums didn’t come in until towards the end. We didn’t want to set the record in a certain direction too quickly. I think as we started adding other instruments on, we saw what really enhanced my voice and didn’t muddy it up too much. We wanted to keep it open.

NS: This collection of songs, it feels like they’re very personal. What on the album do you feel was the most personal and intimate when written?

Schlabs: I think “Every Word” was probably the most personal. It was probably the one I needed to write the most. I wrote that almost as soon as I got to Nashville. The chorus goes “Every word I say, every note I sing sends an echoing from my head to my brain.” The thought behind that was how when you hear yourself speaking in a recording, it doesn’t sound like how you think you’d sound. There’s some weird science stuff that happens there, but that’s basically how moving to Nashville was for me. I thought I was this person, I thought I sounded like this, but then moving here, I was looking at myself questioning it. I was asking myself if that’s who I really was. It’s pretty jarring.

“Sit With Me” was very personal as well. It hits me in a different way. I’m getting close to 30. My parents are still in great health and doing well, but I’m realizing as I’m getting older, seeing some older friends who’ve had family pass away, you realize how that’s inevitable. There’s this switch that happens when the kids become the strong ones for their parents. It’s kind of looking into the future.

NS: You’re from out here in West Texas. When did you move up to Nashville?

Schlabs: It’s been exactly three years since I moved up to Nashville.

NS: There are some hints about the move on this album. You mentioned it just now with “Every Word.” How much of the album was influenced by the move?

Schlabs: I would say a good chunk of it was. I don’t think it’s all about it, but I think it’s the thread throughout a lot of the songs. Really, it’s about this massive change. Some of that change isn’t just about location. In that time, I got married, moved, and changed career paths. There was a lot of jarring changes. Some of them are good, some have been not that great. I think a lot of the album has that perspective.

NS: What song did you have most trouble getting down on paper? Was there anything you felt was a great idea, but then had trouble actually writing into song form?

Schlabs: That was definitely “Sandra’s Song.” That song was written from the perspective of my grandfather towards my grandmother. He passed away five or six years ago. I had that idea and kept writing it down and ultimately erasing it. Then, writing it down and erasing it. It’s difficult to encompass someone’s life and their relationship. I felt everything I was writing was coming off trite or wasn’t really encompassing who my grandpa was. There was so much there–just the way my grandpa looked at my grandma, I always knew there was something really special there. It’s kind of offset by the demons that my grandpa fought–whether it was drinking or the difficulties he had in his family. There were issues there that he brought into other parts of his life. I didn’t know how to write how great of a man he was with the darkness that he struggled with.

I kind of trashed and threw away the parts I had been writing and started with a whole new melody and chorus. I think I had the thought for it, but just had to start all over. I had written half of it or so when I showed it to Neilson. He sort of stepped into what I was trying to say. I think he wrote all of the second verse. I felt it was just perfect. He didn’t know my grandfather, but it felt like he did with the way he was writing about him.

Album Premiere: Eddie & The EAT’s Midnight Snacks

EDDIEEAT2by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Amarillo outfit Eddie & The EAT began recording their debut album, Midnight Snacks, back last Winter. Since then, the Americana band has been slowing, but surely stacking up weekend runs and buzz in the win column. Midnight Snacks is just the latest.

For lead vocalist and lyricist Eddie Esler in particular, the album has been a long time coming. After the breakup of his last band, the bluegrassy Turbine Toolshed and a few years roaming solo, The EAT gave him some structure and the device needed to properly execute the heap of songs he’d been writing.

With Midnight Snacks, The EAT takes a giant step in the right direction as they put a focus on blending subtle moments of confession and admission with rootsy backbeats and rhythms and, at times, spacey guitar licks that come rushing from the stratosphere and beyond.

We caught up with Esler earlier this week to discuss the songwriting and sound of Midnight Snacks, which will officially be released later this week with an Album Release Show at Amarillo’s Golden Light on Saturday, August 27 (More details here). Exclusively stream Midnight Snacks below.

New Slang: A lot of the songs on the album live out in the plains. They feel like short stories that all have roots in this area. There’s a healthy dose of realism in songs like “King’s Crown,” “Dripping Red,” and “Right Back to You.” At one point did you realize a lot of these songs were sketches about folks in the Panhandle?

Eddie Esler:  I tend to take things I’ve seen, experiences I’ve had, and people I’ve met, and weave them into the songs. It wasn’t a preconceived thought to write an album of songs that were sketches of people in the Panhandle, but when I look back, most of the songs came out of personal experiences that I’ve had and the only way to express myself at the time was to put it into a song. I’ve lived in the Panhandle for 26 of my 30 years. It’s what I’ve known most of my life. We (the band) all come from Lubbock, Canyon, or Amarillo. It’s our home and what we know best.

NS: The best example of talking about the Panhandle is the album closer, “Stain on the Plains.” Where and when were you when you first started developing that song?

EE: I started “Stain on the Plains” the morning after the Blue Light Songwriter competition in the backyard of a friend’s house in the Fall of 2014. I was messed up and pissed off. I finished it at a rehab facility in Arizona the following month. I wrote it as a whole piece of of music trying to tap into something deeper. The final par of the song happened when my Navajo roommate, who never talked the month, began singing tribal hymns over what I was playing. What you hear on the record is my best reenactment of what happened that day. It was pure magic.

NS: There’s a lot of slow build up on the track. Some rustic, lonesome guitar and some sparse lyrics slowly build up into a rushing drum beat and guitars that soar. How’d that song end up building up into a lengthy, grand piece of music? Was that just a natural progression after playing it live numerous times?

EE: It wasn’t a natural progression of playing through time. It was more deliberate. We intended it to be a certain movement within the music to give it an orchestral feel. All of the parts, I had prewritten, but were taken to the band and only expanded upon by the group effort.

NS: “Flowers in December” feels like a real intimate moment on the album. That’s a song where it feels like you could have really taken the song to being exclusively acoustic. The band doesn’t overstep or play over you in the song, but they still make their presence known–in an almost post rock kind of way. How’d you guys find that delicate balance?

EE: Taylor, our drummer, brings that post rock aspect to it and does it very well without overstepping boundaries. But yes, it’s a very personal song about my time in Arizona. It’s a begging to come home. It’s missing my loved ones. It’s everything I missed about Texas. I would’ve done it acoustic, but the full band version seemed so much more powerful than anything I could have delivered. It’s exactly why I love playing with these guys–the control, the dynamics, the execution. They were able to feel he emotion of the song and bring it to life so much better than I would have ever done. It’s why they’re not my band, but why we’re a band.

NS: Part of your sound, it’s very organic in nature. The instruments feel worn in and comfortable. Aged. There’s some really grand, sharp guitar tones throughout, but there’s a mix of bluegrass and jam band elements happening as well. It’s mixed well without feeling forced. How have you guys mixed these different sounds?

EE: When we first started, I had an idea as to how I wanted to start a new band different than what I had worked with in the past. The rhythm guitar, drums, and bass worked together in a garage for over six months before ever bringing in the lead guitar. There was a focus on tightness and dynamics in the very beginning. We wanted to be a tight and cohesive unit before we ever started playing gigs. Every member of the band comes from a different background in music that ranges from jam bands to bluegrass to country to metal, hard rock, and blues.

NS: There’s a bit of a movement in Amarillo right now–a resurgence of younger bands creating a sound. You guys are coming up within that movement with some others. What’s going on in Amarillo between these bands? Feels like a real tight knit group.

EE: The bands coming out of Amarillo are so tight knit because most of us have known each other for a long time or have played with each other at some point. We show up to the jams a Hoot’s Pub, mix things up and support each other rather than sticking to our usual bands, and competing against one another. Basically, we’re all friends and love making music together.

Album Premiere: Jim Dixon’s Welcome to Babylon

JimDixonby: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Lubbock singer-songwriter Jim Dixon’s second EP in as many years–Welcome to Babylon–will officially be released later this week.  The  Lubbock via Hobbs, New Mexico transplant made his way to the Hub City a few years back after wandering in the New Mexico badlands for much of his life.

While last year’s Broken Marquee highlighted Dixon’s gentle storytelling ability, Welcome to Babylon features more of those worn and raw textures he picked up out in the harsh New Mexico sunsets.

The true meat of the five-track EP–“Unlucky Horses” and “The Ride”–kick up dust as they scar up the land. “Unlucky Horses” feels worn and frayed. It’s a beaten down story with Spaghetti Western tinged guitar that crack over the simple, but sharp picking. The flipside of that coin is “The Ride,” which has roars down open roads with Dixon’s spoken word. Throughout–but specifically here–guitarist Brian Mcrae shines bright. His guitar playing rears back and attacks the song without ever overtaking the rambler.

Though only five tracks, Welcome to Babylon provides exactly what Dixon and company set out to achieve–another set of songs that stand well enough on their own to bide enough time for Dixon to plunge into recording a full-length.

Dixon and company will be officially releasing Welcome to Babylon tonight (Thursday, August 11) at The Blue Light. We caught up with Dixon late last week for a handful of questions about the EP. Welcome to Babylon is officially out this Friday. Exclusively stream the EP until then below.

New Slang: “Unlucky Horses” and “The Ride,” they feel like they’re from the same area. It’s simple storytelling, but with the raw textures on them, the tones, they feel grand without being overpowering.

Jim Dixon: Yeah. They’re textured in an abstract sort of way to get that emotion out of them. Especially with “Unlucky Horses,” that intro is really the hot desert sun. The outro on “The Ride,” it rolls on. We were trying to create the sun going down with it. I think I really went against the grain with what I think people thought I should do or would do. That become real important with this. There’s a certain amount of rebelliousness that goes into art. I wanted “The Ride” to be something you’d have one driving fast. “Unlucky Horses,” I want you to listen to it watching the sunset somewhere out on the Caprock. “Welcome to Babylon” was sort of the “treat” song–sort of the excuse to make the album. But those two and “I’m on a Roll,” they don’t really fit into any category. They were really important for me to put on this though. “She Hates My Guitar,” we released it as a single earlier this year and threw it on as sort of a bonus track.

NS: I was over here the day you finished up “I’m On a Roll” and you played it when you pulled up. It has a throwback sound that most don’t go for. Some will say it’s a little left field, but it has that simple crooner Rat Pack jazz vibe to it.

JD: Yeah. Has that 1940’s vibe. I love when my young friends say that they feel like they’re in a movie or something when they hear it. Jerry [Serrano] plays horn on it. You couldn’t ask for a better fit.

NS: What ended up being the reason you wrote that song?

JD: I’ve been hanging out with Brian Mcrae a lot. We’ve done some gigs together. He’s a real jazz guy. I guess part of the reason was to write something that’d make him smile. Maybe earn a little street cred [laughs]. It was kind of funny. It took me a few days to get it all down and I walked into the studio to show it to him. An hour later, we were cutting tracks for it. It was almost done in a short amount of time. It was just the right day, right atmosphere, and the right people were all there. Course, then it was what to do with it. Country radio, they really going to play it? I love my friend David Wilde, but is he really going to play it on 105.3 [laughs]?

NS: Broken Marquee came out last year. What’d you want to do differently on this second project?

JD: That first one, it was with Scott Faris. The way we did it was, we opened up my song catalog and said, “Fellas, pick out the songs you think will work. I’m here to learn. Show me how you guys do things.” The songs they picked, they worked well with that. I think my approach to studios and producers is a little different from most. I wrote the song; that’s my art. When I hand it over to a producer, it’s their art. I’m of course going to put my input on that, but I’m very aware that it becomes theirs too. The more constraints I put on them, the more difficult it is for them to do their art. This project with Mcrae was no exception. We sat down and did most of the songs with just me and him. Let’s have fun with them.

Album Premiere: Randall King’s Another Bullet

Randall King.
Randall King.

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

A couple of years back, Lubbock songwriter Randall King released his debut album, Old Dirt Road. It was an uneven collection of 10 tracks that went back and forth between neo-traditional country callbacks to typical Texas country singer-songwriter tunes. Its best moments were just as high as any we’ve seen on a debut record in Lubbock. But, it was still a rough work in progress record from King. More than anything, Old Dirt Road was King getting his foot in the door and having something to work off.

It takes more time than most realize to develop and find their sound. While his Lubbock contemporaries have seen plenty of success with their own albums, King’s been sitting back and searching for that sound, which he’s ultimately found with his upcoming Another Bullet, a tightly-wound five-tracker built around his last single, the guitar-chugging “The Problem.”

Now King’s path from Old Dirt Road to Another Bullet isn’t an outright jump to something totally foreign or anything. But his fine tuning and focus on neo-traditional country ballads and honky-tonk homages has paid dividends. At just five songs, it never hits a lull or dragged down by filler tunes nor does it ever feel like a stop-gap collection just to buy time for an upcoming full-length album.

The slow burn of “Ain’t Waiting on You” reminds you of late ’80s and early ’90s country radio ballads by Keith Whitley (“I’m Over You”) and another King, early George Strait (“Chill of an Early Fall”). There’s a dose of melancholy weaved in that channels the two’s slower, lonesome moments.

“Another Bullet” is perhaps King’s best moment as a songwriter. It still rests in his ’90s country world of slick, wallowing pedal steel and smart hooks. But, it also lives in the realm of cowboy folk and acoustic singer-songwriter circles. It’d work just as well as a bare bones piece. With hints of West Texas dust and Ryan Bingham grit, King transforms into the cowboy on a shrinking range.

“Hard Livin’ Ilene” finds King and company–in this case, Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry joins the fray–revving and ready to go. On the honky-tonk rambler, King and Cordero give us a tour of the trailer park and King’s crumbling Airstream and relationship. As they’d say, the world’s gone to hell since Ilene left.

Another Bullet is officially released this coming Friday, May 20. In addition, King and company will be playing an Album Release show at The Blue Light on Friday. Exclusively stream Another Bullet below.

 

Album Premiere: Daniel Markham’s Disintegrator

Photographs courtesy of the artist. Photographs by Erin Rambo.
Photographs courtesy of the artist. Photographs by Erin Rambo.

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Like many of his West Texas contemporaries, Daniel Markham has often been able to tap into the isolating, yet calm lonesomeness of The Panhandle. Whether it be Thrift Store Cowboys and Amanda Shires of the last decade, Terry Allen and The Flatlanders of the late ’70s, or Buddy Holly and Wink-native Roy Orbison of the late ’50s, they all the ability to capture the parting winds of the flatlands and the blistering sun of the West Texas deserts. It was engrained in their sound–becoming signature for each in their own shades.

The now Denton-based Markham, a decade in as a songwriter and musician, presents his third solo full-length album, Disintegrator. Third. In ways, that’s a misleading description. In reality, it marks his 12th release–following Waiting to Derail’s self-titled, One Wolf’s One Wolf I and One Wolf II: Secret of the Wolf, Larry Legion and Forest of Swords under the Larry Legion persona, solo works Demonstrations, Hexagons, Ruined My Life, Pretty Bitchin’, and the collaborative efforts of Smoke Paint with Tony Ferraro and Harmony in Hell with Claire Morales.

Though looking at an assortment of 12 albums and EPs can be overwhelming, it’s also necessary to fully understand Markham’s trek and path as an artist.

It’s here where Markham separates himself from not only his Panhandle counterparts, but from the majority of songwriters in general, outside the likes of Conor Oberst or Ryan Adams. With such a high release rate, one would assume a slip in quality, a loss of focus, or a disinterest that comes with oversaturation.

Contrary to that notion, Markham’s Disintegrator finds him sharp and zeroing in on the sound and voice he’s been seeking from the outset. Though he’s never fully settled down as a specific kind of songwriter or band, his transparent, effective melodies have been a constant. Following the likes of Alex Chilton, Elliott Smith,  and Chris Isaak, they’re as right as rain throughout.

Undoubtedly, Markham’s sound isn’t solely based on the open spaces and long, empty highways of West Texas–or even realized  by Markham until well into his career–but, like many others, they crept in after a lifetime of living in the area.

Markham’s roots and admiration of the likes of R.E.M., Big Star, Centro-Matic, Jason Molina, and Vic Chesnutt all find their way in. It’s part of his music equation. He often wears these influences on his sleeve rather than hide and pretend they didn’t seep in along the way.

Though all of them trace their origins to other regions of the US, Markham’s search for them is, still in some form, a result of growing up in Rotan, Texas. That hunt for something from the outside, it too comes from West Texas roots, even if only by proxy.

The vast majority of Disintegrator leaves as quickly as it comes. Except for the final two tracks, songs come and go in under three minutes. It creates a longing for songs as they pass. They never overstay their welcome or become too repetitive.

Standout “Disintegrator,” in ways, feels like Markham tip-toeing in a lo-fi version of dream-pop. Maybe the fading dream of a dram of dream-pop. It sets the initial high bar for the 10 songs to follow.

Much like most of Markham’s work, the greatest qualities within the album come through its subtleties. It’s the haunting pedal of “Slayer Tapes & AM Radio,” the Born in the USA Springsteenesque synth line of “Land of Men,” and the T. Rex hop of “Zelda” that push the album over the top. 

In many ways, Disintegrator feels like Markham is driving on endless highway or stuck in the darkest hours of night. Very little light makes its’ way in. When it does, it’s only the flash of a flame. There’s a slight sense of restlessness that only teases out on certain lines and phrases. Much like a Springsteen’s Nebraska or Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill, Disintegrator finds Markham pacing around with these songs.

Disintegrator is officially released tomorrow, Friday, May 06. You can pre-order the album (as well as Markham back catalog) here. Before though, exclusively preview the album in full below.

Video Premiere: No Dry County’s “Till The Wheels Fall Off”

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Lubbock country-rocker outfit No Dry County released The Night Before–their first full-length–roughly a year a back. The 12-track album displayed a band who had found a thought out, concise central theme and vibe after years of experimenting and testing their way through packed dive bars and rough honky-tonks on their ever search for the right pieces and places.

The Night Before was a genuine account of life on the road–the highest of highs and the lowest of lows–a band finds on the open, lonesome highway. More than anything, you found an earnest five-piece looking to push themselves as far out as possible without falling off the proverbial cliff. You have to keep the home fires burning somehow. You can’t let their glimmer disappear completely. “Till the Wheels Fall Off” captures that anxious hesitation of losing touch with what, and more importantly, who are left home.

“I ended up writing that song for my wife,” says lead vocalist Trent Langford. “It was about four or five months before our wedding and I was questioning her decision-making skills based o her acceptance of my proposal. I remember thinking that her parents couldn’t have been overjoyed when she brought a musician home–which led to the line ‘I ain’t the one you mama prayed for’–but it ended up being a love song admitting that I’m incapable of being what she deserves, but that I’m in it for the long haul.”

This summer, NDC and Oklahoma’s Chance Anderson Band are teaming up for a 23-date co-headline tour–including The Blue Light this Saturday, April 30. We caught up with Langford earliest this week with five questions about their Red River Revival Tour with Anderson, The Night Before, and where the band goes from here.

Watch the new lyric video for No Dry County’s newest single, “Till The Wheels Fall Off” above.

No Dry County. Photograph by Susan Marinello/New Slang.
No Dry County. Photograph by Susan Marinello/New Slang.

 

New Slang: It’s been a little over a year since the release of The Night Before. That record really captured the “NDC sound” that you guys had been searching for. Has that turned into confidence for you and the band when it comes to new songwriting? 

Trent Langford: I do think in the process of making the last album we found some vibes we hadn’t captured before and a lot of that has to do with the producers we worked with in Jay Saldana, Josh Serrato and Alan Crossland. They were able to pull certain nuances out of the band that we really latched on to. That, paired with the continued maturation of this group, the consistency of having the same guys working together creatively over four years has played a huge role in establishing a sound.

NS: You guys have really been a champion of Panhandle Music–establishing it as a way to not only describe your sound, but to describe what’s been coming out of the region. So much of The Night Before is about the struggles and temptations of life on the road. In there though, there’s a lot of longing for home and family. Is describing and finding a sense of home the natural progression–whether that’s your real flatland roots or figurative state of mind

TL: I’m not sure we made a conscious decision for the material to have any specific theme. We did however want the storytelling to be brutally honest to what we were seeing in our own lives, as well as within our scene and society in general. A good majority of that album was written on a six-week tour of the east coast, which was pretty rough living and I think writing within that atmosphere naturally led to a longing for what we left in the Panhandle.

NS: You went up to Turkey, Texas a few weeks back to work on new material and get ready for this Red River Revival Tour. How’d that charge the batteries for you guys?

TL: It really was refreshing. Bristen [Phillips] and I have some deep roots in Turkey and spent a lot of time there growing up so it’s always fun when we can get back. It’s tough to get significant writing done when we’re playing 3-4 shows a week. Plus it’s hard block out distractions (and keep from going to Blue Light) when we’re in Lubbock, so we like to find somewhere away from everything, without cell service and unplug for a while. We locked ourselves in a room at The Lumberyard for about 36 hours and did a lot of constructive arguing. We liked what we came up with, so we added six of those new songs to the set to try out on this tour. We’ll see if they have any legs or I guess its back to Turkey.

NS: The Red River Revival Tour with Chance Anderson Band kicked off last week. It covers places you’ve played before, but also ventures into a lot of uncharted territory. Where are you most excited to get to? 

TL: I get excited to play new markets, especially college towns, check out the foodie joints and do some sight-seeing. The cool part about this tour is about a third are places we’ve never been, a third are places Chance has never played and the rest we’ve both been playing a long time. I’m sure we’ll find some new favorite spots along the way but aside from our hometown shows at The Blue Light and Wormy Dog, I’m looking forward to getting back to Denver and Nashville. Both places have really unique scenes and rarely disappoint.

NS: It’s a lot of time on the road. You binge watching any shows? Taking some books? How are you filling the time on the actual road?

TL: Binge watching Homeland, The Blacklist and some CNN documentaries. Reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom and The Coward by Kyle Bullock. Playing golf when at all possible.