Category Archives: Texas, Etc

Interviews, news, and reviews on artists, songwriters, and bands who are located within the state of Texas–both geographically and with the state of mind.

August Exchange: Koe Wetzel, Haters Gonna Hate Culture, & Noise Complaints

Note: Jaguar’s Club t-shirt.

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. Here’s our recap and rehash of the Grammy’s, Sturgill Superfans, and why country music doesn’t need saving. Follow Dennis on Twitter hereGet an insight on what Dennis is listening to here on his curated Spotify Playlist, Rust & Reverb, here.

Thomas Mooney: Koe Wetzel is the most polarizing artist in the state of Texas. That statement is literally, the only thing not polarizing about Wetzel. The entire Koe Wetzel experience is as fascinating as any kind of movement, sound, rise,—however you categorize it—it’s as fascinating and intriguing as anything ever seen in Texas music.

That polarization is just fuel for the fire too. Whichever side you’re on, you’re calling the other side a bunch of fucking idiots for loving or loathing Wetzel & Co. (See what I did there?). It’s either the rise or fall of Western civilization—Everyone is going to hyperbolize it. Granted, one side—the Pro-Koe side—is more fanatic than the other, but that makes sense. I’d challenge you to find a fanbase who’s more ready to lambaste any kind of shade thrown Wetzel’s way than the Wetzel fanbase. They’re just chomping at the bit. Minutemen. Part of the Born Ready crew. Tweet out not something right night, even a legitimate criticism, and be ready for the wrath of Koe Nation.  I mean, some are nearly going full Insane Clown Posse level of crazy. But, it’s kind of funny honestly.

(Sidenote Rant: I only have two legit qualms with Wetzel fans. 1) They dismiss criticism as you being a hater. A lot of that happens in Texas in general. 2) When Wetzel’s Noise Complaint vanished off iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify a few months back, they acted like children. If you were such a diehard, why didn’t you already have a copy of the album? Why were you only leeching off free Spotify? Actually buy albums you supposedly love. OK. End Rant).

Question 1: Is that kind of reaction from fanatics a product of social media or because of Wetzel’s legitimately their Patron Saint of Rumple?

Jeff Dennis: Social media is undoubtedly a huge driver of his success. I don’t use Snapchat much, but I do see lots of chatter on Twitter about all the crazy Snaps people are seeing at this or that Koe show. Moreover, on any given weekend, Koe shows up in dozens of fan selfies. Yet he doesn’t overuse his own social media. He’s accessible, a songwriter for the common man, but also he’s apparently something more to a lot of people.

He’s approaching a million plays for some songs on Spotify, while most bands at his stage are still showing “<1,000” on theirs. I’ve been aware of his name for a year or so, but I think I realized he was a “thing” earlier this year when I heard he had 1500 people pay to hear him play a Tuesday night in Stephenville (yes, 2/28/17). What I can’t figure out, and not much of anyone can, is why specifically Koe is so big? There are 100 bands at the exact career stage who still can’t draw 12 people on a Saturday night in their hometown. If the answer was easy, there are a lot of really great bands that would take the same path.

Mooney: Right. There’s plenty of bands who are just as OK as Koe & Co. are. There’s plenty of potential there. Ultimately, I think what sets Koe apart from other up-and-comers is basically a two-part reason.

1) They’re approachable, charismatic, and earnest. Undoubtedly, they’re hard workers. They play as though they’re not going to ever again. Wetzel’s a frontman. He works the crowd. They’re playing party songs for a party crowd, which, also just so happens to be at a party. They thrive in that environment. You’re not analyzing lyrics in the middle of a singalong—and you don’t want to. 10 beer showers equals free Taco Bell for everyone.

2) Wetzel is both authentic and genuine. I don’t think there’s an On/Off switch with him. He’s not “Show Koe” for the line at the merch booth and “Leave Me the Fuck Alone Koe” at the grocery store. You may find his lyricism sophomoric, but goddamn, it’s genuine. He’s writing about what he knows and has experienced. “February 28, 2016” is genuine. He’s not bullshitting the crowd. Again, you may not relate or care, but there’s something real at its’ core. You have to give him credit for that. I question the genuineness and the authenticity of a lot of artists out there, but Wetzel has both in spades. I mean, THE GUY THREW HIS MUGSHOT ON A T-SHIRT.

You may think it’s dumb as hell, but you believe Wetzel when he says “if he asks me to blow, I’ma tell his punk ass to take me to jail.” Fans believe it. He believes it. His band believes it. Maybe even that punk ass cop believes. That’s more than you can say about a lot of songwriters. And something connected to that is this: Deep down, fans want to believe they too would tell an officer off in the same given scenario—even though they wouldn’t dare dream it. It’s Wetzel’s “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”

Dennis: Ahh, now that’s a great point we’ve debated regarding other artists—Colter Wall, Aaron Watson, CoJo, Zephaniah Ohora, etc., are they genuine and/or authentic? I think you’re exactly right. Koe tells you who he is, and you can take it or leave it. Perhaps his greatest artistic accomplishment thus far is being able to tell his own story in a straightforward manner. Maybe there’s some life imitating art in there too. Regardless, the passion added in—Koe believes in Koe Wetzel too—means a lot to people.

Even if I’m not a huge Koe fan, I respect the process by which people seemingly become popular overnight. All told, I’m an alt country/Americana guy. I have a lot of friends who have never given Texas Country/Red Dirt a chance. Yet I’ve always been drawn to it, both as a cultural phenomenon, but also find the diamonds in the rough. Turnpike Troubadours are a great example of fitting that latter category. Arguably one of the few to come up almost entirely in the scene who never defaulted to cheap content or tired ideas.

Where does Koe fit? Look at the comments on the SCM article and the average Americana fan is repulsed by him. I don’t spend a lot of time with his music, but I remain intrigued. I watched Cross Canadian Ragweed once in Fort Worth, around 2001, play to a room of 50-ish people. Six months later, I tried to go again and there were probably 100 people in line OUTSIDE the door (I didn’t make it in). That energy is such a fleeting and intangible thing. But every few years, lightning strikes some band that has been working hard for five years prior.

Koe’s trajectory is similar to Ragweed. Further, he’s got more garage rock in his sound (like Ragweed) than 99% of TX/Red Dirt bands. Musically, he shouldn’t fit in this scene at all, but it is working. People like to wear rose-colored glasses about Ragweed as icons of the Red Dirt scene, but 15 years ago, the divide between Americana and Red Dirt was much wider. And as such, many in the alt-country scene didn’t take them seriously. What they became was much more than the early fan favorites (“Carney Man,” “Boys from OK”), although arguably the energy and even the quality were already apparent (“Alabama”).

So to finish this thought, maybe you don’t have to be different to get big in this scene, but I think it’s what worked for Koe with his rock leanings (and Ragweed). Man, go back to early Nirvana YouTube videos, and their sound was so raw. They didn’t get big because they sounded pristine and perfect. They had a message and a whole lot of energy and they put it out at just the right time and it just exploded.

So I think you’ve zeroed in on what makes Koe so popular, but the real conundrum is you can’t predict what the *next* big thing (what’s that mean?) is going to be.
Napster-era Cross Canadian Ragweed.

Mooney: Right. The best comparison for Wetzel is early Ragweed. And like Ragweed, they don’t really fit anywhere nationally. Too country for rock, too rock for country. You know the drill. It’s hard to imagine him having this kind of success anywhere outside of the Texas-Oklahoma Region. People don’t want to hear it, but that’s a double-edged sword. The region’s support helps you out immensely when you’re on the come up, but can be a hindrance once you’re ready to branch out. It can stunt your growth as an artist. There’s a reason some Texas or Oklahoma folks try and distance themselves from the “Texas Country” label.

Interestingly enough, had you asked me anytime in the last five years, to create a hypothetical band who’d I’d have thought would be a “next big thing,” it’d have been something similar to Flatland Cavalry. They’re maybe the only band who’s eclipsed Wetzel’s rise. They’re not nearly as polarizing and I can’t remember anyone really questioning their integrity or intentions—like if you come across Flatland haters, they still “get” why they’re popular; they just choose to not listen.

So I slightly disagree on predicting the next big thing. You can’t predict who, but you can definitely predict what. Now, that may just be semantics. But, the Texas Country-Red Dirt music scene is still dominated (popularity wise) by college-aged kids who binge drink on the weekends and argue about why their school is going to win the Big 12 Championship in football.

Wetzel’s material isn’t any different when it comes down to that. Drinking? Check. Womanizing? Check. Party? Check. Catchy? Check. The difference comes down to that early Ragweed thing. They were doing garage rock mixed Oklahoma folk roots music. Wetzel’s just doing pop-punk. Instead of Pantera or Alice in Chains or Nirvana, it’s Blink-182 and Green Day (when they were good) and Brand New. I’ve heard some criticize Wetzel’s songs for all sounding the same. I think there’s something to that. But, they said the same about The Ramones too.

That pop-punk influence is something you couldn’t have predicted. But I think it’s an anomaly. There will undoubtedly be many bands who’ll try and follow that blueprint, but I don’t think any will hit like Wetzel has. That’s probably just a fool’s errand.
Vintage Brand New.

Dennis: That Intro track to his record is the most Blink-182 thing to ever happen to Texas Country.

Speaking of genuine & authentic: Just learned via the “Walking the Floor” with Chris Shiflett Podcast that Blink went to the same high school as Sam Outlaw, who is a sort of polarizing in the California country scene, although maybe just because he’s named Outlaw and has a song called “Bottomless Mimosas.”

What were we talking about again?

Oh yeah. Is that “Don’t Need You” video by Ragweed still around? If so, that was the most Nirvana moment in the Red Dirt scene.

Mooney: Sam Outlaw. He’s like the high brow version of this—I don’t necessarily understand why him either. I did like a few off his Angeleno, but I’ve probably not invested enough time to understand if I like it or not. I mean, I like the idea of Sam Outlaw—California Country from the valley—but again, that’s also ultimately Midland. Again, I question how genuine this all is.

Back to Koe and his fanbase. They’re as passionate a collective as any out there. They’re passionate about Koe’s raw, unabashed genuineness. That’s their battlecry. Their mantra—even if they don’t know it—that’s what they were searching for and found. Everything hinges on that. But what’s really perplexing is how that doesn’t necessarily go further than a few artists. We talked about questioning the genuine and authenticity—the intent—of other artists earlier. There’s plenty of beer ad jingles being written in Texas Country. I guess what I’m saying is that I wonder just how many of Koe’s fans are also fans of CoJo, AaWa, Earl Dibbles Jr, Fowler, Mike Ryan, Kyle Park, Donahew, etc. I find a lot of that as “bad” music, but also “bad” because it’s so vanilla and feels so cookie cutter—it’s all the shit “Texas Country” diehards say “Nashville Country” is coincidentally. I bet there’s a pretty large cross-section. I bet they’re undoubtedly bigger fans of Koe’s, but attend the Donahews of the world as well when they’re around. Maybe not because they’re actual fans, but because they enjoy the party atmosphere around those shows. But I’d argue, at least when Koe’s selling you a party, he’s genuine with his intent and not going back to his bus after to get away from you. It’s not country music, but it’s music for people from the country.

I guess that goes to a larger, more broad question though—why listen to and ultimately support music—even in the most cavalier of ways—that you’re just alright with? Why eat McDonald’s when the mom & pop joint is right down the street?

Dennis: The Texas scene is all about loyalty. There’s a subset of people in it that I really like, yet I watch them help promote new records that are terrible by most standards. Of course, it’s mainly because artists know they have a fanbase and hope to get support in return. Further, negativity is received very poorly in the scene. Overall, it’s not a bad thing that bands support each other, but I think it hyper-inflates the popularity of some acts that just aren’t that good. A limited few have found big success outside the scene. Eli Young Band and Randy Rogers found pretty good mainstream success, but Pat Green & Ragweed never really became national radio standards. It’s barely even up for debate that Pat is far more iconic than EYB as far as the Texas scene, but they have had more success at the national level. (And EYB has 1.5 million Facebook fans to Pat’s 219K, which isn’t everything, but I think signals their reach.)

Rhett Miller talks some about this on the “Walking the Floor” with Chris Shiflett Podcast. Old 97s came up as a rock band with country influence at a time when there was almost no crossover between rock/Americana and Texas country. Start 10 years later, and they theoretically could be drawing 2,000 people at Nutty Brown Cafe. They never broke over into that scene, nor did they try to cater to its fans, but I think they are fine not being an LJT band. Sure, they would make way more money if “Timebomb” was the song everyone waited for at LJT where everyone poured beer down each other’s pants, but at some point, you surely don’t want to live just to be that act every year.

So where am I going with this? Plenty of people that love Texas music don’t even know about Old 97s, and despite their connections to Turnpike Troubadours, I don’t know that they are pulling fans from that scene any more than they were 15-20 years ago. But, I think far fewer people hear the name Old 97s and associate them with being bad music than your average big Texas country band. In the Americana fan world, Texas Country has many, many of strong detractors. BUT what produces a rabid fan base better than anything? Opposition. “You hate on my music so I like it even more.” The fact that Koe is different than the average Texas country band I think just increases the fervor, because fans feel like they are standing for something much more unique.
Koe Wetzel & The Zero Fucks Given The Konvicts

Mooney: Give me something to believe in. That’s great and all. But what I hate is when bands or artists—it can literally happen to anyone—is when they start believing their own hype. Overdose on The Cool. Getting high on your own supply. Etc. Etc. It’s one of the most tragic things that happen to bands. You can only hope Koe and Co. don’t think they’re as great as nineteen-year-old kids are telling them they are. That sounds harsh, but it’s also a reality.

It basically goes two ways once that happens. 1) They have such a passionate fanbase that it won’t matter what Wetzel writes, they’ll eat that shit up. Or, 2) They have a such a passionate fanbase that they’ll know when they begin to mail it in and they’ll turn.

That’s one thing most people get wrong about me. Haters gonna hate thing. I’m not rooting for people to fail. OK—some people I am because I think they’re selling bullshit to people and everyone would be better off without it. But for the most part, I’m rooting for good music to happen. I’m rooting for the evolution of an artist. I’m rooting for improvement and forward progress. I just want there to be some integrity and for an audience and fanbase to demand good music.

I want to go back to the Flatland and Wetzel comparison for a minute. Both have been essentially exploring the highs and lows of college life. You can’t do that forever. OK—you can, but you can only write “100% Texan” so many times. You have to move on and mature with your audience. You’ve already seen a slight turn with Flatland. You go from “Love Me in the Water” and “Summertime Love” onCome Mayto “Humble Folks” and “Tall City Blues” on Humble Folks. If you’re Flatland, you’re hoping to fade Come May out of the setlist by 2020ish. The worse part of writing an anthem is having to play it every damn night. Ask Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Dennis: That’s a place I remember Ragweed getting to. They got older, had kids, became better musicians and writers, and they just didn’t want to play those old party songs despite all the chants for “Carney Man.” You have to wonder if Wetzel is going to be loving singing about Taco Bell when he’s 35. We have no idea where he’ll be artistically when that time comes (and this piece isn’t trying to figure that out).

We’re currently watching a few different artists try to make their material more mature without losing the fanbase that shows up to drink beer and ultimately pays their bills. When you get successful, you have a lot of mouths to feed (band members, manager, agent, tour manager, assistant to the tour manager, guy who always skips his Friday classes to ride along in the van, but really just drinks green room beer, etc.). At each level of success, you get dependent on that $500, $2,500, $25,000 every night and you have to keep making the paying fans happy. However, I think the “good guy” narrative insulates most acts against this. Everyone promotes everything, good or bad. We see a bunch of marketing about how much this new batch of songs means and how the artist is more proud of these songs than any they’ve ever written and on and on. There’s some sort of pride about being a songwriter that makes people record only their own mediocre songs instead of mixing it up more and recording those by lesser known, but better writers. What if Joe Ely had never recorded Butch Hancock or Tom Russell songs? We still might not know “If You Were a Bluebird” or “Gallo del Cielo.”

The Texas scene does have a lot of great performers. Just wish they would record a Hayes Carll or John Baumann or Jamie Wilson or Slaid Cleaves song more often.

Mooney: Two Things.

1) I’ve come a long way on the whole “you have to compromise to successfully pay the bills for 1) your standard of living and 2) to pay the people who work for you” thing. I can understand the reasoning behind all that. People do that all the time in the business world. And I know part of this is business, but it’s also supposed, in theory, be fucking art. I used to be way more of an absolutist and uncompromising when it came to that. But I still think you either 1) you get a watered down legacy or 2) you wind up having just as much (or little) as you would if you had fewer fans and fewer people to pay. Maybe you’re playing big shows in every weekend, have a bus, an entire crew, a guy who skips his Friday classes to drink green room beer, etc but I wonder how often you—the artist—walk away with the same damn paycheck total as you did doing it your way.

2) This is probably an entire subject all on its own. I threw that question out once on Twitter—the why don’t we see people recording other people’s songs like we used to? Willie, Waylon, Merle, Cash, all the way down to Ely, Crowell, Jerry Jeff—even Guy—they all weren’t too proud to do someone else’s song. Why don’t we see that happen these days? Drew Kennedy had a couple of hypotheses on the reasoning. The biggest being, most of those guys, they were on some kind of label—which, no matter how shitty back then, would at least be worth something today. When you’re an independent artist and you can only afford to record an album every few years, by damn, you’re going to record your own songs. It’d be cool as hell to see Hayes, Baumann, Jamie, Drew, or Slaid to get a song recorded by whoever, but no one from Texas is going to really do that (EDIT: Though, I do guess there are a few Sean McConnell cuts in there). It’ll almost always be Nashville folks who do—again, coincidentally, people on labels. Lee Ann Womack did “Chances Are” a couple years back. We all know about Baumann’s “Gulf Moon” nearly getting cut by Chesney. Bruce Robison and Dixie Chicks.

In saying that, even just a decade back, Ragweed was cutting Snider, Hubbard, Chris Knight, Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, and Boland songs. Boland’s basically done a Childers cut on every single record. Hell, Stoney’s biggest songs are almost all other people’s songs. But that honestly may be a distinct cultural difference between Okies and Texans—Childers, Skinner, McClure, all the way back to Woody, they may not be as critically acclaimed as Townes, Guy, Shaver, Blaze Foley, etc—but damn, they’re more passionate about their cultural significance and heritage. Texans would rather tell you we’re better just because of Whataburger, Shiner Bock, Blue Bell ice cream, and the Alamo.

I digress, though. None of that technically had anything to do with the Koe Wetzel experience, but whatever.

Dennis: It is interesting how Oklahoma artists seem to have a better grasp of their own cultural music heritage, whereas so much Texas country relies on “of course were the best at everything because it’s Texas.” People talk a big game about being into Townes, but you don’t see many people doing deep cuts from his catalog. The average, cheap Texas country song is just so far away from Townes and Guy, it’s probably for the best anyway. Pat Green covered “Snowin’ on Raton,” and sure there are others in there, but those worlds don’t mix well. I think that’s why Hayes Carll has always kept a safe distance from being a “Texas Country” guy.

I feel like there’s got to be something else in there that keeps Texas guys from covering the best songs of each other’s more, but I don’t know what. Pride. Maybe it’s a pain to sort out royalties when you’re basically self-distributing. That seems as likely to me. It’s just easier not to mess with it.

I’m not sure this one is going to get back to where we started. Koe Wetzel is an interesting phenomenon, but your average Americana fan is still turned off by his style of music. However, as I mentioned before, I heard the same things said about Ragweed and Boland 15-17 years ago. Now those guys are considered elder statesmen of the scene.

The scene will continue to thrive by being an echo chamber. The Steamboat lineup came out today and I’m always surprised that people are surprised who is playing. It’s 80-90% the same acts every single year. There’s almost never a big Isbell/Simpson/Stapleton surprise headliner. A few new names get in the gate (also, OF COURSE, Koe Wetzel is playing), and otherwise, it’s the usual suspects.

Mooney: Royalties have to be part of it. Keep what little money you’re making selling CDs and digital downloads in house. This is another subject we’ll have to dive in on, but I think that’s why co-writing culture is so much more prominent now. With that, you’re getting the bump and notoriety of doing a song with whoever, but also keeping a cut of the credit.

Anyway. We keep using Ragweed, Boland, etc as the prime examples of maturation and growth within this scene. And people used to call them buzz bands when they first started. I think we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t at least mention that for every “Carney Man,” “Boys From Oklahoma,” or “Pearl Snaps” recorded, there was a “Proud Souls” or a “17.” There were some redeeming qualities in those songs.

I mean, talking heads of the scene are always talking about wanting something sincere, real, and compassionate. Wetzel captures in its rawest form and they go “Yeah, but not like that.” It’s hypocritical. But, I feel I have to drive this point home. Just because you’re genuine, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And vice versa. And there’s a lot worse happening in Texas than Koe Wetzel. In some ways, he’s ahead of the curve just solely on the fact that he’s not recorded a stupid song about his love for Texas.

Ultimately, I guess what I’m saying is Koe’s redeeming qualities as a songwriter is that unabashed genuineness and authenticity—for better and worse. It may ultimately be his demise or contribute to questionable songs. But, I also don’t think it’s something you want to put a governor on. You may never want to put on a Wetzel record. But it may also mean he ends up saying something worth listening to one day. To get all Game of Thronesy on here, “YOU’RE A DRAGON. BE A DRAGON (BUT ALSO, DON’T BECOME A MEME FOR THE TOKEN PARTY ROCK GUY BURNOUT EITHER).”

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.

Interviews: John Baumann

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

On the first three releases of his career, Texas songwriter John Baumann displayed, more than anything, potential. He was a young, budding storyteller who morphed into characters who were familiar, sometimes flawed, but endearing nonetheless. You knew them because you’d met them at whichever Texas school you were attending. He described regional affairs and painted vivid landscapes with a vast understanding. He went off exploring with West Texas Vernacular, High Plains Alchemy, and Departures.

Hell, for the first two, he even had three names, John Edward Baumann, much like the songwriters he was often compared to–Robert Earl Keen, Willis Alan Ramsay, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Fucking Clark.

Two weeks back, Baumann released Proving Grounds, an intimate and personal journey that detailed the highs, the lows, and most often, the unknown of growing up. Proving Grounds is a point in which Baumann’s growth and maturation as an individual and as an artist has crossed. Previously, you only caught glimpses of the real Baumann on previous projects. Here though, you’re introduced to John Baumann, the artist, storyteller, songwriter, and most importantly, the man who behind them.

So many songwriters are great on the technical side of storytelling. Getting from Point A to be B, C, and D within a song. But often, they lack understanding that those stories must have something worth saying. Proving Grounds is Baumann having something to say. There’s a lesson in it all.

The songs of Proving Grounds are lived in. They have fingerprints on them. The pages are worn. You see Baumann’s boot heels as he paced back and forth. But instead of these songs being (day)dreams, they’re memories. Instead of being transported to the Panhandle, the Permian Basin, or down to Eagle Ford, Baumann’s pulling back the curtains and letting you into his own world.

Opener “Here I Come” lays the foundation and by the time you reach the culminating “Pontiacs,” you’ve seen a transformation and progression of a child with a dream into a maturing adult having to deal with tough losses, difficult decisions, and life.

Album highlight “Old Stone Church” is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It’s the ultimate example of how fragile and unfair life can be. But Baumann proves that while these moments can wear on an individual down to a state of unknown and void, you too learn to appreciate the time you’re given.

While “Old Stone Church” may serve as the cornerstone for Proving Grounds, other songs explore the life of an up-and-coming musician (“Here I Come,” “Holding It Down”), addictions (“Heavy Head,” the Aaron Lee Tasjan cover “The Trouble With Drinkin'”), missed connections (“Meg”), and deciding the difference between love and lust (“Turquoise,” “Lonely in Bars”). At times, it’s a rough map of how to navigate through your twenties without becoming engulfed.

Still, more than anything, Baumann’s Proving Grounds tells the story of how just when you think you’ve figured it out, life has a way of showing you that you don’t. All you can do is forge ahead. It’s alright to come out the other side with a couple of scars. No one makes it unscathed.

We caught up with Baumann last week to discuss Proving Grounds. Find it on iTunes here.

New Slang: To this point in your career, your song catalog has been dominated by geographical sketches and character-based storytellers. With Proving Grounds, you started telling your own story. These songs are more personal and intimate. How’d you get to where you were more comfortable with revealing yourself more?

John Baumann: I came home from Steamboat in 2016 and saw a lot of acts who I was impressed with. I thought it was time to dig a little bit deeper with my songwriting material. I’ve always been my harshest critic and I was never really happy with my previous projects and felt like it was time to dig deep and do my best I could possibly do. We’re all getting up there. I’ll be 30 in November.

The very first song I wrote was “Meg.” It’s still a song about someone else, but I was able to put more of myself into it. I started going down these rabbit holes. “Old Stone Church” is 100% my story. That led to “Heavy Head” and then “Here I Come.” It felt like it was becoming more and more me. I was kind of tired of writing, like “Bay City Blues,” which was about a friend in a semi-fictional kind of way.

NS: This progression, was it easier getting these songs out since you weren’t necessarily putting them through another filter of a character–since they’re more based on your own personal feelings and thoughts?

JB: This came a lot easier. My buddy Chisum and I were talking and he said it felt like the first record without any geography songs on it. With the first three projects, I was always able to mentally transport myself into an area. Those songs always felt like they took a little longer to write. Almost everything on Proving Grounds, nothing felt more than a few hours per song. There wasn’t any that took months to end up finishing. “Pontiacs” took some time. But a lot of these came out faster.

NS: You think that’s partly because there was “less homework” involved in these songs? You weren’t having to look up street names or anything. 

JB: Totally. Nothing where I was looking up the county name to see if there’d be a better rhyme than the city name kind of stuff. One thing I was kind of getting irritated at was after shows people constantly coming up and saying “You write songs about this place. You from this place?” Well no, I’m not. “Well, how come then?” I’ve kind of had enough of that. I’m a Panhandle-born guy. Spent time in Lubbock at South Plains College. But I’ve really lived all over the state. I really don’t like being boxed in as an up-and-coming geographical songwriter.

NS: Yeah. There’s not any specific geographical songs, but there’s still that Texas backdrop. You still have an homage to Texas in your writing. I always thought Guy Clark was the best at writing about Texas without falling into the cliché tropes of writing about Texas that we often see. “Here I Come” and “Holding It Down” have a lot of that in them. It’s easy to fall into those clichés as a writer. How do you avoid the potholes?

JB: I love being from Texas. As a musician, you kind of develop a love-hate relationship though since it’s a lot of the same places every weekend. It’s a lot of the same highway. I’ve got to the point of knowing which gas stations to hit in Coleman, Texas and which to skip. It’s the difference between quality of fruit and getting shitty burritos.

When it comes to writing, I really can’t stomach clichés. It has to be genuine to me. So like with “Here I Come,” everyone has a troubadour blues song–a song about how tough the business is. I was really trying to draw from where my love of songwriting started. It really started with Lubbock (on Everything) back when I had my first day job. I really hated that job. It was drawn from hearing Robert Earl Keen on boomboxes at summer camp. Those images are so ingrained into me. Like my dad taking me to Floore’s Country Store or to Gruene Hall to see Cory Morrow when I was fourteen. I thought that was heaven. “Here I Come” was so easy to get out. It was easy to stay genuine with.

“Holding It Down” on the other hand, I’ve gotten mixed opinions because I say Texas like 12 times in that song. That song though, it’s really about just being another dude in Texas trying to do the best I can to make a living. I’m not necessarily crushing it. I’m just holding it down.

NS: Yeah. I think there’s typically a misconception about the music business. A lot of fans think if a band is playing around every weekend, they must be earning a lot of money. They think everyone is successful and–

JB: –living the dream. People have said, “You opened for Willie [Nelson]. You noticed a huge change yet?” or been told by some that we’ve already gotten the money and accolades.

NS: That line–“Too soon for accolades, too late to quit” is just great. It’s a powerful line. You remember when you actually thought of it?

JB: I was sitting at my kitchen table writing that song. It was over two or three days doing like forty minutes at a time. I always liked the word accolades. I was doing David Wilde’s West Texas Live show and remember singing it and afterwards seeing him giggling over saying, “Holy shit. That was a line.”

I’m like any other guy. I get online and read reviews and press. With West Texas Vernacular and High Plains Alchemy, I was getting some praise, but I’d listen back to the record and just know I wasn’t ready. It didn’t sound like it was ready to me. I think with this record, I’m closer to some accolades. But when I was writing it, we were really in some middle ground just busting ass and consistently growing, but we’re not where we need to be.

NS: Something we’ve talked about before with those records was how sometimes you’d try to cram a whole lot of words into songs. You’d say as much as possible. Departures had a lot less of that happening. You started finding a balance of space and vocabulary. You really let Proving Grounds breathe. 

JB: Yeah. I think I had a clear vision with what I was wanting to get across in each song. A lot of these songs were simpler. I wasn’t trying to outsmart anyone or be over someone’s head. I think a large part of that was having the guitar in my hands before writing down lyrics. I was picking, thumbing, and working out melodies before. Before, I’d type out two verses and a chorus on a Word doc and then take it to a guitar.

NS: We’ve already mentioned how much more personal this record is. Family and specifically, your father, are very much on it. You talk about him on “Old Stone Church,” some on “Here I Come,” and while I don’t think you specifically mention him on “Pontiacs,” it’s a song about growing up and maturing. That transition runs through the Proving Grounds as a whole. 

JB: Absolutely. My dad died in 2013. On High Plains Alchemy, the last song on there is called “Last Great Eagle Scout.” It’s a mess. My dad passed halfway through that project. I really couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or mentally at the time. I was in my mid-twenties and not sure about where I was in a music career, who I was as a person, just all of it. I didn’t know what was happening. Four years have passed since then. Time does heal wounds. I think I’ve evolved quite a bit since then. I’m comfortable and confident now. A lot of that anger and bitterness has gone away.

My dad is kind of split into three songs. One about what you want to be when you grow up and him taking me to my first Texas Country shows, one about me kind of making peace with his death, and one kind of about becoming an adult at the end of the record.

NS: “Old Stone Church” is one of the best songs you’ve written–maybe the best. How difficult was it to write out? Revisiting that time. 

JB: I wrote that in my bedroom–in my bed actually. Just me and my guitar. It’s a pretty simple song structurally. Each first line repeats at the end. It wasn’t hard to write, but it was hard to record. I’m no softie–OK, I’m a little bit of a softie. I cry during the National Anthem and stuff like that. But, we were in the studio and I lost it. There’s a part of that song when the drums, this big cannon drum, and this droning guitar kicks in midway through. I remember my producer asking if I was alright. I said I was, but he told me to take 20 minutes. I just went outside by myself. If you really listen to my vocals, there’s some quivering.

I haven’t really performed it much. There was a few times I was able to get through it when it was new and no one knew it. But to be completely honest, I’m not really looking forward to playing it live.

NS: Sonically, the album pops. It’s concise and flowing. “Pontiacs” has a nice, long outro though. Was that  always the idea for that song or was that an addition in studio? Was this sprawling outro always something you visioned for the album?

JB: Yeah. I love any song with a sprawling intro, outro, or midsection. This song was the one to do it. There were some people in my camp pushing me to have it third or fourth on the record since we live in a time of instant gratification where people listen to the first couple songs and never move on. I thought it had to be at the end though. From a music fan point of view, I love putting a CD in the car and driving and getting to the last song when it goes on for eight or nine minutes. I’ve dreamed about that for a long time. I’m glad we were able to execute it. It’s probably my favorite thing on the entire record.

NS: It feels like punctuation for the album. A statement. A ribbon that wraps it up.

JB: Right. It’s kind of making peace. The record is kind of an emotional rollercoaster. But it feels like we’re making peace at the end. Life goes on.

The Best Releases of 2017 So Far

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Like any kind of list, this one too is incomplete. No one is ever able to listen to everything they should. If they tell you they have, they’re lying.

Two weeks into June, here’s 40 albums and EPs that 1) I listened to,  2) I really liked, and 3) were released by Friday, June 16. The amount of music released these past six months is virtually impossible to keep up with–though, I guess iTunes probably has a rough estimation somewhere–which means I’m already going to apologize for not including some that I haven’t had the time to properly dive into and soak up.

These rankings? They’re really just rough estimations. They all have a +/- of 3 or so. Don’t get too hung up. We’ll go ahead and break each of these albums up bullet points–Three Things I Like and One I Don’t.

Listen along and follow the Top 50 Spotify Playlist below.

 

15. From A Room: Volume 1
Chris Stapleton

  • Ultimately, what makes Chris Stapleton a successful artist is his uncanny ability to deliver songs that are sing-alongable without losing much of their dignity or integrity. Much of From A Room is replicable within a chorus. You’re singing or at least humming along within seconds.
  • Despite having one of the largest song catalogs in the modern era, From A Room is split into two volumes with nine songs theoretically on each. And it’s not just any room; it’s A Room for good reason. It’s RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tenn–a room that’s been used to construct much of what we think of as good and timeless in the Golden Age of Country music.
  • “Up To No Good Livin'” feels like a prequel of sorts to Traveller‘s “Nobody to Blame” in both story and in style. The narrator in both throws out cliché lines about being untrustworthy and the aftermath of that untrustworthiness. And even though Stapleton does throw out cliché expressions like fastballs, they fit the context and limits of the songs well.
  • “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” is one hell of a heartbreaker. But, Stapleton doesn’t have as much restraint as Gary P. Nunn or Willie Nelson–mainly because he’s a better vocalist than both–to fully make the song as heartbreaking as its meant to be. It’s OK. But meh. Also, “Them Stems” is kind of a dumb song that feels like a wasted spot for such an accomplished writer–I get drug songs are needed too, but hell, Traveller‘s “Might As Well Get Stoned” was at least in a groove.

14. Canyons of my Mind
Andrew Combs

  • Andrew Combs continues to push his sonic palette with Canyons. There’s darker territory and tones explored with a lush foundation of elegant strings, soft piano, and delicately layered melodies that blend effortlessly with his velvety, warm vocal delivery.
  • With songs such as “Blood Hunters,” “Dirty Rain,” and the jangly “Bourgeois King,” Combs all but conquers subjects previously unexplored in-depth on prior albums. With his sights set on political, humanitarian, and environmental concerns, Combs doesn’t hold back. On “Dirty Rain,” he paints dystopian destruction and crisis as blue and misery as possible while still keeping his sharp, beautiful vocabulary.
  • “Silk Flowers,” “Hazel,” and “What It Means To You”–a semi-duet with co-writer Caitlin Rose–shows Combs’ strongest suit as an artist is still delivering heartbroken, country ballads in the same vein as Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson. His melancholy vocal delivery perfectly fits his turn of phrases.
  •  While Canyons does feel personal and has Combs going down darker routes on the map in subject and sonically, it doesn’t have the gut punches gloom of Worried Man or fit as seamlessly as All These Dreams.

13. Adios
Cory Branan

  • Lead single “Imogene” finds Cory Branan delivering one hell of a tongue-in-cheek heartbreakers. On the surface, Branan is writing Imogene off–he couldn’t have broken her heart or done her wrong–he didn’t even try. And that’s what makes it so heartbreaking on Imogene’s end. Being dismissed with a “I never tried” is right up there on the heartbreak power rankings–especially if you know deep down that they did.
  • Branan is a genre-bender. Punk tinges here. Countryfied rock there. Singer-Songwriter balladry here again. On Adios, picking out those subtleties becomes a game. It’s the Tom Waits piano on “Cold Blue Moonlight” that morphs into bar blues guitar hero. It’s the Born to Run-era  brass of “Blacksburg” that elevates the rambler into an anthemic rush. “Just Another Nightmare in America” plays to Branan’s pessimistic outlook with a punk-infused attitude and a Ramones worthy chorus chant to boot.
  • Branan’s heartbreak and humor go hand-in-hand. They play off one another. It’s not necessarily always heartbreak in the classic sense–down in the dumps and self-deprecating. His humor isn’t knee-slapping or excessive either. The best example of Branan’s wry humor goes back to “Imogene” with the lines “You could say that I’m a no-account ne’er-do-well, roustabout, detestable, itinerant, execrable degenerate–fair enough.”
  • At 14 tracks long, Branan’s Adios takes a 2000s approach to record making and length. It lags on at times and probably would more well-rounded at 10 or 11 songs.

12. Harry Styles
Harry Styles

  • Like Justin Timberlake, Harry Styles always had the most raw talent in his boy band group. And like Justified, Styles’ solo debut goes off into numerous directions with promising success. At times, it’s strange Art-Rock like late ’70s solo Peter Gabriel, ’90s Britpop Rock like Blur and Oasis (mostly Oasis), blue-eyed British Soul-Pop like George Michael, and even at times, reminiscent of the sad folk balladry of Ryan Adams or George Harrison.
  • The David Bowie cosmic tinges of “Sign of the Times” has melodramatic cliffhanger crescendos that are part “The Funeral” by Band of Horses and part “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis.
  • “Two Ghosts,” “Ever Since New York,” and “From the Dining Table” show off Styles singer-songwriter side that show he’s already more developed as a storyteller than many of his contemporaries.
  • Other than “Sign of the Times”–and maybe “Meet Me in the Hallway” and “Carolina”–there’s not a bona-fide radio hit. There’s less flare to the album that what most will expect. It’s more mellow than trying to chase One Direction radio success. “Kiwi” (and “Woman” to a lesser extent) both feel like strange additions to the album’s vibe and tracklist order. “Woman” isn’t necessarily as bad as “Kiwi,” but nevertheless, feels awkward at best within the context of the album.

11. Furnace
Dead Man Winter

  • Dead Man Winter–the moniker used by bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles lead vocalist David Simonett–is a rootsy, isolated cabin of a record. After a divorce, Simmonett was searching for closure and therapy. In many respects, these songs are Simonett working his way through, coming out on the other side with those wounds scarred over and healing. The obvious comparison would be Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, with its’ cathartic songs of heartache and woe.
  • Simonett keeps the writing honest, blunt, and straight to the point. On “Red Wing, Blue Wing,” lines flow like late night drunken confessions–“I’m full of charm and I’m full of whiskey and I’m full of shit most the time”–come delivered casual and matter of fact. “I Remember This Place Bigger” is a sobering followup that has Simonett recalling tidbits of a fading memory.
  • While “Red Wing, Blue Wing,” “I Remember This Place Bigger,” and “The Same Town” all have Tom Petty Americana streaks running through them, Furnace shines brightest on tracks where you feel like a fly Simonett’s wall. On “This House Is On Fire,” “Cardinal,” and “Weight of the World,” you’re catching one side of telephone calls. Simonett pulls you into his world and state of mind.

10. Colter Wall
Colter Wall

  • At 21, Colter Wall is an absolutist. He’s as earnest and devoted to the idea of being a great storyteller and singer-songwriter as he is to the craft of actual songwriting. That youthful fervor is the fire of Colter Wall. That flame remains throughout making the album faithful to storytelling in the traditions of country and folk. He doesn’t concede or compromise.
  • Lyrically, you almost see Wall’s growth in real time. What I mean by that is you see him trying different styles. “Bald Butte” and “Me and Big Dave” go into full storyteller mode with little resembling a chorus. You’re not meant to singalong; you’re meant to listen. On the flip side, “Motorcycle” and “Thirteen Silver Dollars” to an extent are almost exclusively chorus worthy and just begging you to join in.
  • Wall at times reminds you of a young Johnny Cash. His vocals are as large and booming–Paul Cauthen comes to mind as a rivaling bellow. And while the raw talent is certainly there, Wall too knows how to hold back. On murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” it’s even intimidating.
  • At various points, you wish Wall would develop tales a little more. While “Kate McCannon” is certainly a standout narrative, Wall barely goes in deep with the details. It ends abruptly without telling us anything we didn’t know with the beginning verse. As perfect as it opens up with the first handful of verses, it leaves you suddenly and cold without much being resolved.

09. Out of Exile Trilogy
Kirby Brown

  • Kirby Brown’s Out of Exile EPs really begin with Part 1 being released last Fall with 2 and 3 being delivered these last few months.
  • “Little Red Hen” and “Gimme a Week” in particular show Brown’s keen sense of humor in the same vein as John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and Roger Miller. There’s a down home casualness that’s endearing in Brown’s “aww shucks” delivery.
  • “Paint Horse,” “Sweet Shame” and “Broken Bell” capture Brown’s pensive lonesomeness. He’s at his reflective best with composed, heartfelt regret of “Broken Bell.”
  • At nine songs total and in three-song increments, the only real flaw for Out of Exile is that right when you feel you’re picking up any kind of real momentum, the EP is over. Of course, on the flip side, it means Brown is giving you just enough to keep you hooked for another EP installment.

08. Middle Kids
Middle Kids

  • Everything stars with “Edge of Town” when it comes to Australia’s Middle Kids. It’s a sugary, windows down, wind blowing through your hair summer anthem with multiple singalong hooks. Even as nostalgic and melancholy as “Edge of Town” is at times, it’s still a rush when vocalist Hannah Joy really belts it out and when that ear candy of a slide guitar comes racing by. Also, I feel like it may be influenced/about Stephen King’s It–though, that’s all speculative on my part at this point.
  • Part of Middle Kids’ charm is their smart, sharp pop sense. Like “Edge of Town,” “Your Love,” “Never Start,” and “Fire In Your Eyes” are all loaded with hooks and choruses that beg to be shouted. They all build up to these soaring crests before crashing down in organized chaos. They’re the prime moments in which Joy really shines as a frontwoman shifting from cool and calm into raw, unhinged vulnerability and emotion. Songs end with an exhale.
  • There’s something very familiar with Middle Kids. There’s a mid-2000s nostalgic glow with the band’s debut EP. They capture a sense of suburbia, breakout, and discovering heartbreak similar to Local Natives, Ra Ra Riot, The Shins, and Rilo Kiley.
  • At six songs long, Middle Kids is just enough long enough to keep you appeased as we wait for their full-length debut release–something they’re currently in the process of working on. Still, a projected release date can’t come soon enough.

07. Big Bad Luv
John Moreland

  • Moreland’s greatest gift as a lyricist is his uncanny ability to paint ample, vivid images while never being too wordy. His lines are stark, bare, and purposeful. He rids his songs of useless words or lines that may bog down or get in the way of the narrative. A shining example is with the album’s namesake highlighted in lead single “Sallisaw Blue” with “There’s a neon sign that says ‘Big Bad Luv’ and a noose hanging down from the heaven’s above.” Another is from the acoustic “No Glory in Regret,” with the opening lines “Did you hear the devil laughing from the ambulance passing? Or was that just my troubled mind? Don’t you wanna shake the ground and tear heaven down?”
  • While Big Bad Luv is certainly more robust and hearty in sound than the bare-esque bones of High on Tulsa Heat or the nearly all acoustic In The Throes, it’s a sensible step into Moreland perhaps stepping back into a full band setting. Still, Moreland and company know their strengths–never overpowering Moreland’s booming vocals or getting in the way of his emotional words of wisdom. Dobro, Wurlitzer, piano, and organ all have practical appearances throughout, often warming the foundation for Moreland on heartfelt songs like “Old Wounds,” “Love Is Not an Answer,” “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before),” and album closing highlight “Latchkey Kid.”
  • Even more so than even Jason Isbell, Moreland is Americana’s most intimate songwriter. Songs feel as though only you and him are in the room. They’re one on one conversations. “Latchkey Kid”,” “No Glory in Regret,” and “Slow Down Easy” are personal entries that tug on every emotional string. While Moreland’s been known for heart-aching rootsy balladry, Big Bad Luv isn’t another collection of heartbreakers. Still, he’s as heartfelt and sincere as ever.
  • This isn’t even a complaint. But as good and successful as Moreland is as a solo artist, I wouldn’t mind seeing or hearing more of his punk-rock roots. Endless Oklahoma Sky by John Moreland and The Black Gold Band and Everything the Hard Way by John Moreland & The Dust Bowl Souls are two hidden gems that have Moreland delivering Gaslight Anthemesque punk-tinged and beer soaked anthems.

06. Way Out West
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

  • Way Out West isn’t meant to be consumed in little nuggets. It’s meant to be taken in when you have time to sit, listen, and think. It’s as much of an instrumental score and escape as it is a lyrical exercise for Marty Stuart. “Mojave,” “El Fantasma Del Toro,” “Torpedo,” etc are as integral to the magic and mythos of Way Out West as “Way Out West” or “Whole Lotta Highway.”
  • Stuart and company do a lot of blending on Way Out West. Their guitars are paint brushes warping, welding, and merging Spaghetti Western, Surf Rock, Rockabilly, Mariachi, Western,  Psychedelic, and Country. It’s just as Joshua Tree burnout hippie desert rat as it is Marty Robbins’ trail songs.
  • There’s even hints of Lee Hazelwood (and Nancy Sinatra) eccentric sun-baked pop on tunes like the trippy mirage-inducing “Way Out West.” The slow burner gives Stuart and company the opportunity to throw out layers of full harmonies that echo down the canyon walls.
  • For some, the journey Stuart and company are on is just going to be a bridge too far. Those expecting a dozen truck-driving anthems like the rambling “Whole Lotta Highway” are going to be disappointed by all the instrumental pit stops. Still, it’s one of the most beautiful sounding albums released in years.

05. Corners
Dalton Domino

  • The artistic maturity between Dalton Domino’s 1806 and Corners is exponential. Spurred on by spurn ex-lovers and an honest and stone cold attempt at sobriety has made Domino a bold, clearheaded songwriter. Rather than delivering an album of paint-by-number Texas Country tropes–something that would have been easier and probably gained much more success in the short run–Corners has Domino pushing his own limits as an artist. Corners wasn’t easy. Domino returned to the drawing board a handful of times returning with new songs that were better and more well-rounded.
  • Domino wears his influences on his sleeve. Songwriters Travis Meadows, Tony Lane, Jack Ingram, Sturgill Simpson, and Red Shahan all provided artistic inspiration. You hear Shahan on “Sister,” Lane on “Rain,” and maybe most notably, Simpson on the album’s sprawling, twisting bookends, “The River” and “Monster.”
  • “Rain” and “Mine Again (I’d Be a Fool)” are vulnerable compositions that show Domino isn’t just the loud, confident everyman of “July” or 1806’s “Killing Floor” and “Dallas.” In ways, they’re even more vulnerable and bold than “The River” or “Monster,” which could easily just be written off by the casual fan. But “Rain” and “Mine Again (I’d Be a Fool)” are almost certain to be considered for radio single release. They challenge the current status quo of what a prototypical “Texas Country Radio” single is with their refined, polished, and cultured sound.
  • The only real drawback and concern for Corners is on whether the album is replicable on a nightly basis. Producers Nick Jay and Jay Saldana helped create an ornate, rich sonic world for Domino and company to exist in. So much of Domino’s live show is based on a–at times, sloppy–raw live energy that relies heavily on spur-of-the-moment spontaneous decision-making. It’s quite the juxtaposition next to the calculated and prepped Corners.

04. Spades and Roses
Caroline Spence

  • Caroline Spence has a feathery, whispery, and gentle vocal delivery. It’s delicate, yet demanding. For long stretches of Spades and Roses, she pulls you in with road stories and diary entry confessions. Like a Wildflowers, a Nebraska, or a 1000 Kisses, Spades is tightly wound in its’ own world of dreamy piano, fleeting harmonies, and even while sparse at times, still rich with warmth.
  • While Spence is armed with a delicate delivery, she’s a sharp and honest lyricist. “You Don’t Look so Good (Cocaine),” “Southern Accidents,” and “Goodbye Bygones” all have heart-wrenching images that cut to the bone, are honest but cold, or leave you teary-eyed and alone.
  • “Heart of Somebody” and “Slow Dancer” wrap around you like a thick quilt or a hearty fire with lines about real love after being calloused and reserved by previous lovers.
  • At times, Spades and Roses can be too sleepy–which, it’s not like Spence advertised it being a party starter.

03. Proving Grounds
John Baumann

  • After his first three releases (West Texas Vernacular, High Plains Alchemy, and Departures)–a trio of storytellers in which he morphed into multiple character vignettes and landscape sketches, John Baumann finally ventures into telling his own story on Proving Grounds. A family’s impact on an individual is immeasurable. You see a Baumann’s father’s handprints and guidance on John’s personality and character throughout with songs like “Here I Come,” “Pontiacs,” and none more so than on the crisp, refreshing, and redeeming “Old Stone Church.”
  • Ever the growing artist, Baumann has always set a high bar for himself as a lyricist, storyteller, and songwriter. Proving Grounds finds Baumann maturing and confident. Songs breathe. He’s comfortable with sprawling instrumentals (“Pontiacs”) and realizing that, ever so often, sometimes the silence speaks too (“Lonely in Bars” and “Old Stone Church”).
  • Guy Clark wrote the best songs about Texas. They were just never just about Texas. Texas was the climate, the setting, the rust, the dust, the language, and the mood. Where previous work maybe relied too much on specific regions, Proving Grounds never settles down anywhere for too long. It criss crosses back and forth across the state using it more so as a canvas backdrop than ever a full-blown sketch. “Here I Come,” “Holding It Down,” and “Heavy Head” do it best with lines about East Texas Rust, West Texas Dust, The Flatlanders, Terry Allen, and more.
  • At times, Proving Grounds dips its toes into Texas Radio territory. There’s certainly nothing wrong with testing the waters and trying to push into new markets. And while there’s nothing too egregious or ever a decision to curb a song and trying too hard to shoehorn into being Texas Country pop radio worthy, you do wonder if a song like “Love #1” would be “better” without the “ooohs” in the chorus. “The Trouble with Drinkin’,” an Aaron Lee Tasjan cover, isn’t a bad song–or a bad cover. It could eventually turn into Baumann’s “Whiskey River” or “Bloody Mary Morning,” but it does come across as the weakest song on a spectacular album.

02. The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

  • Jason Isbell is still the king of the craft. Songs are tightly wound with familiar expressions, descriptive analogies, and lines that are sharp, poignant, and never wasted. Whether it’s the wry sense of humor on “Last of My Kind” with lines like “Everybody clapping on the one and the three” or the raw and direct “Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know” of the soaring “Hope of the High Road,” Isbell rarely holds back or dishonest.
  • The sobering and weighty “If We Were Vampires.” Isbell’s vocals have a gradually growing quiver that are real, raw, and capture a moment that’s as authentic as it is genuine.
  • Isbell isn’t just honest with you, the audience. He’s honest with himself that often lingers with self-deprecation and holding himself accountable. This all culminates on “White Man’s World”–specifically with the verse” I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes. Wishing I’d never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke. Oh, the times ain’t forgotten.” That’s what sets Isbell apart from the pack.
  • The only real complaints of The Nashville Sound is every once in a while–typically on larger, anthemic songs (“Hope of the High Road,” “Cumberland Gap”)–Isbell’s vocals can get lost within the mix.

01. DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar

  • Kendrick Lamar is the king. Still, even after plunging deep and head first into the avant-garde, Lamar continues being hungry and never settled with previous achievements. DAMN. is just the next link in what has become one of the longest winning streaks in modern music. Lamar has cultivated an unrivaled artistic freedom and expression while maintaining a pulse on what’s relevant and significant in today’s world on both a macro and micro level–and in the pop culture, political, and socio-economical realms.
  • Lamar really started this narrative, open forum, and discussion with 2011’s Section.80. With each concept album released since–good kid, m.A.A.d. city, To Pimp a Butterfly, and untitled unmastered– Lamar challenged his audience to keep up with the next theory, thought, and wrinkle in the next chapter as a Corner Philosopher. Again, Lamar is constantly telling two stories as once. One that’s in the moment and one that fits within the whole.
  • DAMN. closer “Duckworth” is one of Lamar’s finest to date. It’s an example Lamar’s prowess as a rapper who can shift gears with his delivery. As a street tale, it’s a microcosm for Lamar’s entire catalog. At its core, “Duckworth” shows how every decision, no matter how insignificant or seemingly trivial, is consequential and creates waves in the grand scheme. DAMN. is, in many ways, an ouroboros of an album. It’s ends where it began. It’s whole and complete.
  • For the novice listener, Lamar can be too complex, raw, dense, or coarse. At times, he’s uncompromising and uninterested in success in terms of radio. While still having more pop sensibilities than most, Lamar will not be confused with the laid-back G-Funk era of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg or the anthemic heights of some of his modern contemporaries.

35 Other Albums Liked:

50. Culture by Migos
49. In Mind by Real Estate
48. This Old Dog by Mac Demarco
47. Graveyard Whistling by Old 97’s
46. FUTURE by Future
45. God’s Problem Child by Willie Nelson
44. The World We Built by The Wild Reeds
43. Drunk by Thundercat
42. Near To the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
41. Highway Queen by Nikki Lane
40. Pilot by Greg Vanderpool
39. Green by Kody West
38. & I’m Fine Today by Susto
37. Halloween by Ruston Kelly
36. Prisoner by Ryan Adams
35. The Navigator by Hurray For the Riff Raff
34. The Native by Vandoliers
33. Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
32. Duende by The Band of Heathens
31. Along Alone Tonight by Jonny Burke
30. Felony Blues by Jaime Wyatt
29. More Life by Drake
28. Process by Sampha
27. The World’s Best American Band by White Reaper
26. Starfire on the Mountain by Starfire on the Mountain
25. Stars by Michael O’Neal
24. The Order of Time by Valerie June
23. Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band by Bruce Robison
22. Jason Eady by Jason Eady
21. Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels
20. This Tall to Ride by Robyn Ludwick
19. Close Ties by Rodney Crowell
18. Dirty Wonder by K. Phillips
17. Life Without Sound by Cloud Nothings
16. Hot Thoughts by Spoon

Other albums/EPs that are probably/possibly great and worth listening to:

  • Capacity by Big Thief
  • The Spark by The Builders and The Butchers
  • Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne
  • Adios by Glen Campbell
  • Ghosts On The Car Radio by Slaid Cleaves
  • Kids In The Street Justin Townes Earle
  • So You Wannabe an Outlaw by Steve Earle
  • Pleasure by Feist
  • HNDRXX by Future
  • You Only Live 2wice by Freddie Gibbs
  • Humanz by Gorillaz
  • Why Don’t We Duet in the Road by JP Harris
  • Native by Clayton Landua
  • Forever and Then Some by Lillie Mae
  • Marfa by Marfa
  • Emperor of Sand by Mastodon
  • Brand New Day by The Mavericks
  • Sad Clowns & Hillbillies by John Mellencamp
  • This Highway by Zephaniah Ohora
  • Til the Goin’ Gets Gone by Lindi Ortega
  • Heartless by Pallbearer
  • No Shape by Perfume Genius
  • Ti Amo by Phoenix
  • Wrangled by Angeleena Presley
  • Swimming Alone by Liz Rose
  • South Texas Suite by Whitney Rose
  • I Got Your Medicine by Shinyribs
  • Neva Left by Snoop Dogg
  • Note of Blues by Son Volt
  • Odessa by Jeremy Steding
  • Trophy by Sunny Sweeney
  • Blue Notes by Jeff Whitehead

Albums & EPs That Look Promising and Will Most Likely Be Released in the Second Half of 2017 (Or Soon After):

  • Until My Voice Goes Out by Josh Abbott Band
  • TBA by The Americans
  • Everything Now by Arcade Fire
  • Land of Doubt by Sam Baker
  • TBA by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
  • TBA by Wade Bowen
  • TBA by Leon Bridges
  • TBA by Paul Cauthen
  • We Rode the Wild Horses by Ross Cooper
  • Purgatory  by Tyler Childers
  • Dear Tommy by Chromatics
  • TBA by Ben Danaher
  • Crack Up by Fleet Foxes
  • Good People by Josh Grider
  • Painted Ruins by Grizzly Bear
  • Something to Tell You by HAIM
  • Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can by Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • At Home in the Big Lonesome by Drew Kennedy
  • TBA by Chris King
  • TBA by LCD Soundsystem
  • TBA by Mike & The Moonpies
  • Sleep Well Beast by The National
  • TBA by Quaker City Night Hawks
  • Villains by Queens of the Stone Age
  • OKONOTOK by Radiohead
  • Lust For Life by Lana Del Rey
  • TBA by Charlie Shafter
  • TBA by Red Shahan
  • TBA by Bruce Springsteen
  • Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
  • From A Room: Volume 2 by Chris Stapleton
  • TBA by Texas Gentlemen
  • TBA by Turnpike Troubadours
  • TBA by Shania Twain
  • TBA by Alex Williams
  • TBA by Vampire Weekend
  • A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
  • Turbo Grafx 16 by Kanye West
  • TBA by Wolf Parade

The Ranch: Double Dipping in Texas Music, Americana, Nashville Country, Etc Angers Fans. But Why?

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Over the last few weeks, Ft. Worth’s 95.9 The Ranch has come under heavy fire for a change in their battle-tested, fan-approved format. Primarily, the expansion of their playlists has drawn criticism and concern from listeners. Still, several fans and artists have come to the defense of these minor changes citing that expanding what’s considered Ranch-worthy material only expands listeners’ musical palettes.

It’s already been well documented by several other music publications so I’ll save you 10 minutes and get onto why these claims of “going mainstream, etc” are fraudulent at best.

The Ranch you claim to have lost was already expanding those playlists for several years running. They’ve essentially been playing all of the artists deemed unfit for “Texas Radio” for a while now. You didn’t notice until they acknowledged it themselves. There’s certainly some changes, but again, they’re not as massive as a lot of listeners have made them out to be.

A year ago, I listened to several radio stations across the state of Texas from 8am to 8 pm, documenting exactly what they played and when (Lubbock’s 105.3 The Red Dirt Rebel, Amarillo’s 107.1 Armadillo, Austin’s 99.3 KOKE-FM, New Braunfel’s 92.1 KNBT, and Dallas’ 95.3 The Range were the other stations documented). A year later, that Ranch list comes in handy once again.

Earlier this week, I went ahead and documented exactly what they played during the same time slot. If you saw the lists side by side, you wouldn’t know the difference–other than maybe the fact that they’re playing more recent singles a year later.

Here’s some raw numbers.

Number of Songs Played

2016: 144
2017: 140

Number of Individual Artists

2016: 103
2017: 106

Four less songs in an 12-hour block isn’t too alarming. By percentage points, it means they’re technically playing a wider range of artists.

Most Played Artist

2016: Ryan Bingham, Wade Bowen, William Clark Green, Cory Morrow, Reckless Kelly, Mike Ryan, Aubrie Sellers, Shane Smith & The Saints (8 Artists, 3 Plays Each. Technically, Bowen has 5 total plays with Bowen/Randy Rogers collaborations)
2017: Wade Bowen, Hayes Carll, Miranda Lambert, Stoney LaRue, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson (6 Artists, 3 Songs Each)

This is really the key to making the formula work. To get a wider range of artists–more artists–you obviously have to be less top-heavy. It seems minimal, but going from eight artists at three spins each to six artists at three spins is, at the bare minimum two more spins for other artists who weren’t being played that day.

Bowen is the sole artist with three songs played each day. Bingham, Green, Morrow, Reckless Kelly, Carll, LaRue, Musgraves, and Nelson all were played both days as well.

Most Song Played

2016: “Til It Does” Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, “Rattlesnake,” Dolly Shine,  “Find Us Alone” Dalton Domino, “February Snow” Flatland Cavalry, “The War” Joey Green, “The Flag,” Brandon Jenkins, “Bad Reputation” Mike Ryan, “Light of Day” Aubrie Sellers, “Brace For Impact” Sturgill Simpson,  “All I See Is You” Shane Smith & The Saints, “But You Like Country Music” Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh (11 Songs Twice)
2017: “Make You Mine” High Valley, “Wish You Were Here” Cody Jinks, “We Should Be Friends” Miranda Lambert, “Once” Maren Morris, “Forever Today,” Reckless Kelly (5 Songs Twice)

Depending on what side of the argument you side with, here’s probably your biggest point. You either cite how they’ve varied the playlist by playing half as many songs twice or you cite how artists like High Valley, Miranda Lambert, and Maren Morris–three artists who are more in line with “Mainstream Country”–are taking song spots once claimed by “Independent Texas Music” artists. Again though, I’d at least challenge the notion that all “Independent Texas Music” artists are both A) better and B) don’t have their fair share who sound comparable in sound and style. Is Mike Ryan’s “Bad Reputation” (or “New Hometown” for that matter) really that different from “Mainstream Country”? I’d say no–and that’s not necessarily even a bad thing.

Artists Played Both Days: Bart Crow, Dalton Domino, Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Flatland Cavalry, Radney Foster, Kevin Fowler, William Clark Green, Jack Ingram, Waylon Jennings, Cody Jinks, Cody Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Stoney LaRue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Whitey Morgan, Maren Morris, Sean McConnell, James McMurtry, Cory Morrow, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Kyle Park, Charlie Robison, Reckless Kelly, Sam Rigs, Billy Joe Shaver, The Steeldrivers, Marty Stuart, Sunny Sweeney, Randy Rogers Band, Sturgill Simpson, Turnpike Troubadours, Uncle Lucius, Aaron Watson, Whiskey Myers, Zane Williams, Erick Willis, Dwight Yoakam (47)
Songs Played Both Days: “Saturday Night” Wade Bowen, “The Love That We Need” Hayes Carll,  “The Guitar” Guy Clark, “All Just To Get To You” Joe Ely, “February Snow” Flatland Cavalry, “Rose in Paradise” Waylon Jennings, “Call Me the Breeze” Lynryd Skynryd, “Lie Baby Lie” Sean McConnell, “Drink One More Round” Cory Morrow, “New Year’s Day” Charlie Robison, “Too Late For Goodbye” Randy Rogers Band, “Brace For Impact” Sturgill Simpson, “Keep the Wolves Away” Uncle Lucius, “Floodgate” Erick Willis (14)

If anything, I think you could even argue that The Ranch is keeping right on line to a fault. Two random days in March roughly a year apart have 14 songs played both days. You have 47 artists who were played both days–which, makes sense. 14 of the same songs is surprising though. That means 114 artists were played on one of the two days–a list that includes the likes of Cross Canadian Ragweed, The Great Divide, Jason Eady, Chris Knight, Jason Isbell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Quaker City Night Hawks, Shane Smith & The Saints, Grady Spencer & The Work, Pat Green, John Moreland, John Fullbright, Luke Wade, and Lyle Lovett–all seem to be in line with what the majority of fans want. Choose another day and it could be any of those 114 who made the list of played both days.

Now, let’s break it down further by genre. Note: I’m not here to argue the semantics of why Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward is actually just Americana. I’d agree for the most part, but we’re going with what the average listener would probably classify them as.

Classic Country/Neo-Traditional

2016: Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Hal Ketchum, Radney Foster, Marty Stuart (6)
2017: Johnny Lee, Gary Allan, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, John Anderson, Hank Williams Jr, Sammy Kershaw, Johnny Cash, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Johnny Paycheck, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, Chris LeDoux, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, Clint Black (20)

Top 40 Country

2016: Aubrie Sellers, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Maren Morris (4)
2017: Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Jamey Johnson, Easton Corbin, Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown Band, Sundance Head, High Valley, Maren Morris, Aaron Lewis (10)

Rock & Roll

2016: Lynyrd Skynyrd (1)
2017: Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Georgia Satellites, Tom Petty, Eagles, Janis Joplin (8)

These seem to be the most hotly debated points of interest. The jumps from six to 20, four to 10, and one to eight in Classic Country/Neo-Traditional, Top 40 Country, and Rock & Roll are incredibly massive. Artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, Mac Davis, could just as easily been classified as Texas Music Classic. The additions of Easton Corbin, Sundance Head, Zac Brown Band, High Valley, and Aaron Lewis are the most egregious of the bunch. But again, there’s some comparable artists within Texas Country.

Texas/Red Dirt Classic

2016: Guy Clark, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Great Divide, Steve Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker, Slaid Cleaves, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, Mike McClure, Billy Joe Shaver, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Cooder Graw (13)
2017: Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Billy Joe Shaver, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Slaid Cleaves (9)

Americana

2016: Sturgill Simpson, Parker Millsap, Uncle Lucius, Ryan Bingham, Whitey Morgan, Chris Knight, Hayes Carll, American Aquarium, The Steeldrivers, Justin Townes Earle, Chris King, Dale Watson, David Ramirez, Owen Temple, Jason Isbell, Carter Sampson, James McMurtry, John Moreland, K. Phillips, Quaker City Night Hawks, Courtney Patton, Charlie Stout, No Dry County, Walt Wilkins (24)
2017: James McMurtry, Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, John Fullbright, Lucinda Williams, Hayes Carll, Brent Cobb, Whitey Morgan, John Moreland, Ryan Bingham, Paul Thorn, The Steeldrivers, Luke Wade, Alison Krauss, Paul Cauthen, Luke Bell, Uncle Tupelo, Punch Brothers, Bonnie Bishop, Uncle Lucius, BJ Barham (21)

These seem to be pretty on line with each other. 13 to 9 and 24 to 21 aren’t really eve worth mentioning. Nothing to complain about.

Texas Country/Red Dirt

2016: Wade Bowen, Mark McKinney, Sean McConnell, Flatland Cavalry, Damn Quails, Randy Rogers Band, Zane Williams, Reckless Kelly, Mike Ryan, Grady Spencer & The Work, Shane Smith & The Saints, Cody Canada & The Departed, Mike Stanley, Jamie Richards, William Clark Green, Stoney LaRue, Bart Crow, Brandon Jenkins, Kyle Park, Erick Willis, Cory Morrow, Whiskey Myers, Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, Houston Marchman, Cody Johnson, Prophets & Outlaws, Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh, Dirty River Boys, Dolly Shine, Turnpike Troubadours, Cameran Nelson, Josh Grider, Mike & The Moonpies, Jack Ingram, Sam Riggs, Adam Hood, Phil Hamilton, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Dalton Domino, John D. Hale, Max Stalling, Michael Padgett, Austin Allsup, Cody Jinks, John Baumann, Charlie Robison, Ryan Beaver, Micky & The Motorcars, Joey Green, Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Kevin Fowler, No Justice, Thieving Birds, Six Market Blvd (54)
2017: Zane Williams, Stoney LaRue, Pat Green, Aaron Watson, Flatland Cavalry, Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Green River Ordinance, Kevin Fowler, Cody Jinks, Charlie Robison, Midnight River Choir, Reckless Kelly, Sean McConnell, Turnpike Troubadours, Kyle Park, Sunny Sweeney, Bleu Edmondson, Eli Young Band, Josh Abbott Band, Troy Cartwright, Whiskey Myers, Jack Ingram, Roger Creager, Cody Johnson, Sam Riggs, Casey Donahew, Bart Crow, Statesboro Revue, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Erick Willis, Jason Eady, Dalton Domino, Cory Morrow, Parker McCollum, Austin Allsup, William Clark Green, Brandon Rhyder (38)

Going from 54 to 38 a 16 song swing. I admit, it’s pretty large. You can pretty much contribute that to the additions of Classic Country and Neo-Traditional artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Clint Black, Tom T. Hall, Johnny Paycheck,  Gary Allan, etc are really the artists take those spots. Rock & Roll classics like Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and the Eagles take a handful. And yes, Easton Corbin, Zac Brown Band, and Aaron Lewis from the Top 40 Country take a few.

But you should also be reminded that some of those spots are taken not by necessarily replacing those Texas Country artists, but rather, taking some of their double (and triple) spins.

And again, you must keep in mind that these are just two random day selections. There’s an argument to be made that any of the artists “added” were there all along. Of course, the data here does suggest that you–the listener–is getting plenty of Texas Country, but just at a slower rate.

I’d argue that Texas Music as a whole will be benefited by this gradual shift. It means Texas artists aren’t being graded on a curve anymore. Playing the best songs available overall means you can’t just be from Texas and decent to get played. So many radio stations pride themselves on being strictly Texas Country and Red Dirt. But then they play mediocre and lower rung artists and songs. It waters down the product and honestly makes Texas Music look top-heavy and amateur by comparison. The notion that being from Texas makes you a more qualified artist is a ridiculous, silly, and sad narrative that so many have fallen into and bought. Stop.

And even though I’m not the largest fan of some of the artists added–Sundance Head, Easton Corbin, Zac Brown Band, Aaron Lewis (Seriously. This is the only one I really wince at)–those songs aren’t bad. At minimum, they’re on par with some of the “best” that Texas seems to offer.

It seems to me that 1) The changes are small. They were already playing a good chunk of what people are railing against for years. 2) Even with the small tweaks, it’s for the better. Better songs being played is always the right answer.

For more on the shift of what Texas Country/Red Dirt Music is, read our January and February Exchanges.

Below, are the two logs in play order. (And for asking, it’s fairly simple to log these without sitting for 12 straight hours listening to the radio.)

March/2016 8AM-8PM
Saturday Night Wade Bowen
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
Sunshine Mark McKinney
Novacaine Sean McConnell
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Midnight Swagger The Damn Quails
Too Late for Goodbye Randy Rogers Band
She Is Zane Williams
Pining Parker Millsap
Light of Day Aubrie Sellers
Best Forever Yet Reckless Kelly
Bad Reputation Mike Ryan
Things to Do Grady Spencer & The Work
All I See Is You Shane Smith & The Saints
Skyline Radio Cody Canada & The Departed
Miss Her Mike Stanley
Any Way You Want Me To Jamie Richards
Sticks & Stones William Clark Green
Us Time Stoney LaRue
Rose in Paradise Waylon Jennings
Dear Music Bart Crow
The Flag Brandon Jenkins
What Goes Around Comes Around Kyle Park
The Guitar Guy Clark
What Did You Expect Erick Willis
Wichita Falls Houston Marchman
21 Days Cory Morrow
The War Joey Green
Road of Life Whiskey Myers
War of Art Courtney Patton
Til it Does Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Too Many Nights in a Roadhouse Gary P. Nunn
Keep the Wolves Away Uncle Lucius
Me and My Kind Cody Johnson
I See Stars Charlie Stout
Soul Shop Prophets & Outlaws
Honky Tonk Man Dwight Yoakam
Outdrink the Truth Walt Wilkins
But You Like Country Music Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh
Boom Town Dirty River Boys
Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah Reckless Kelly
Losing Ground Aubrie Sellers
Red Headed Stranger Willie Nelson
Southside of Heaven Ryan Bingham
Rattlesnake Dolly Shine
Count My Blessings Ray Wylie Hubbard
Goin’ Down Rocking Whitey Morgan & The 78s
Every Girl Turnpike Troubadours
The Little W’re Living On Cameran Nelson
Sweet Loreen Hal Ketchum
Smallest Town on Earth Josh Grider
Putting it Down Mike & The Moonpies
Cry Lonely Cross Canadian Ragweed
The Jealous Kind Chris Knight
The Love That We Need Hayes Carll
Nobody’s Fool Wade Bowen
Call Me The Breeze Lynyrd Skynryd
Losing Side of Twenty-Five American Aquarium
Until It’s Gone Radney Foster
Dance the Night Away Shane Smith & The Saints
Til the Wheels Fall Off No Dry County
Never Could The Great Divide
Pablo & Maria Zane Williams
Fool Jack Ingram
Good Ol’ Boys Club Kacey Musgraves
Hold On and Let Go Sam Riggs
Next Big Thing William Clark Green
The Devil’s Right Hand Steve Earle
Lie Baby Lie Sean McConnell
Flowered Dress Slaid Cleaves
New Deep Ellum Blues Adam Hood
High Time Waylon Jennings
Big News Small Town Phil Hamilton
Ponies Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Won’t Let It Show Mike Ryan
Midnight to Memphis The Steeldrivers
Find Us Alone Dalton Domino
Heartbreaker John D. Hale
I’ve Got Something Max Stalling
Picture on My Wall Jack Ingram & Jerry Jeff Walker
Lungs Dirty River Boys
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
Canopy Michael Padgett
Lone Pine Hill Justin Townes Earle
It’s True Austin Allsup
Roadhouse Gypsy Ryan Bingham
Wrapped Walt Wilkins
Loud and Heavy Cody Jinks
Guns & Knives Grady Spencer & The Work
Borderland Chris King
The Flag Brandon Jenkins
Good Luck N’ Good Truckin’ Tonight Dale Watson
Better Than I Ought to Be Randy Rogers Band
Light of Day Aubrie Sellers
Nobody’s Girl Reckless Kelly
Another Dollar Chris Knight
Worry Me Houston Marchman & The Contraband
Rattlesnake Dolly Shine
Vices John Baumann
Winning Streak Ashley Monroe
Harder to Lie David Ramirez
Songs About Trucks Wade Bowen
All Just to Get to You Joe Ely
Copenhagen Robert Earl Keen
Sympathy William Clark Green
Down Home Country Blues Ray Wylie Hubbard
New Year’s Day Charlie Robison
Find Us Alone Dalton Domino
King of the Road Hayes Carll
Cry Slaid Cleaves
Dark Ryan Beaver
Modelo Mike McClure
My Church Maren Morris
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Live Oak Jason Isbell
Bloodshot Micky & The Motorcars
Wilder Side Carter Sampson
No Damn Good Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Allnighter Cody Canada & The Departed
You Never Can Tell Owen Temple
Bad Reputation Mike Ryan
Drink One More Round Cory Morrow
All I See Is You Shane Smith & The Saints
The War Joey Green
Heart’s Too Heavy John Moreland
Floodgate Erick Willis
I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome Marty Stuart
Storekeeper James McMurtry
Georgia on a Fast Train Billy Joe Shaver
Moose Lake Michael Padgett
Heart of Breaking Up Cooder Graw
Adventures of You & Me Ryan Bingham
To Dance With You K. Phillips
Guitar Town Steve Earle
Atlantic City Rodney Parker & The 50 Peso Reward
Beat the Machine Quaker City Night Hawks
World Thru a Windshield Cory Morrow
Til It Does Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Bring It On Kevin Fowler
Night’s Pay in My Boot Max Stalling
Bend But Don’t Break No Justice
Kentucky Thieving Birds
Silence in Me Six Market Blvd.
But You Like Country Music Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh
 March/2017 8AM-8PM

Hello World Zane Williams
The Guitar Guy Clark
Vice Miranda Lambert
Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
Look at Me Fly Stoney LaRue
Cherokee Fiddle Johnny Lee
Baby Doll Pat Green
The Deed and The Dollar Shooter Jennings
Outta Style Aaron Watson
Smoke Rings in the Dark Gary Allan
February Snow Flatland Cavalry
Down and Out Randy Rogers Band
Follow Your Arrow Kacey Musgraves
Stars on the Water Rodney Crowell
Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? Waylon Jennings
Beat Me Down Wade Bowen
Flying Green River Ordinance
Long Line of Losers Kevin Fowler
Brace for Impact Sturgill Simpson
The Wall Willie Nelson
Wish You Were Here Cody Jinks
In Color Jamey Johnson
Hard Light of Day Radney Foster
The Year That Clayton Delaney Died Tom T. Hall
You Got to Me James McMurtry
Roll With It Easton Corbin
Dead Flowers Rolling Stones
Too Late for Goodbye Randy Rogers Band
Barlight Charlie Robison
Soul Food Midnight River Choir
Forever Today Reckless Kelly
Traveller Chris Stapleton
Live Forever Billy Joe Shaver
Black Sheep John Anderson
Lie Baby Lie Sean McConnell
Moving John Fullbright
Diamonds & Gasoline Turnpike Troubadours
Trouble Wade Bowen
Women I’ve Never Had Hank Williams Jr
Can’t Let Go Lucinda Williams
Homegrown Zac Brown Band
Somebody’s Trying to Steal My Heart Kyle Park
Natural Forces Lyle Lovett
13 Year’s Sundance Head
From a Table Away Sunny Sweeney
The Love That We Need Hayes Carll
Queen of My Double Wide Trailer Sammy Kershaw
Last Last Time Bleu Edmondson
We Should Be Friends Miranda Lambert
Feet Don’t Touch the Ground Stoney LaRue
Even If It Breaks Your Heart Eli Young Band
Down in the Gulley Brent Cobb
Road Trippin’ Josh Abbott Band
Folsom Prison Blues Johnny Cash
Corpus Christi Bay Robert Earl Keen
My Girl Troy Cartwright
Wave on Wave Pat Green
Texas Forever Kevin Fowler
Me and Paul Willie Nelson
When the Lights Go Out Sam Riggs
Make You Mine High Valley
Saturday Night Wade Bowen
I Ain’t Drunk Whitey Morgan
Into the Mystic Van Morrison
Diamond in My Pocket Cody Johnson
Jayton and Jill Zane Williams
Stone Whiskey Myers
Wherever You Are Jack Ingram
Fun All Wrong Roger Creager
Texas in My Rearview Mirror Mac Davis
All Just to Get To You Joe Ely
Once Maren Morris
I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love Paul Thorn
Country Roads Ryan Bingham
Call Me the Breeze Lynyrd Skynryd
Cleveland County Blues John Moreland
One Star Flag Casey Donahew
East Bound and Down Jerry Reed
Dandelion  Bart Crow
Broke Down Slaid Cleaves
I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight Sunny Sweeney
The Dollar Jamey Johnson
Dunken Poet’s Dream Hayes Carll
The Fighting Side of Me Merle Haggard
Fade My Shade of Black Statesboro Revue
Skin & Bones Eli Young Band
If it Hadn’t Been For Love The Steeldrivers
Somewhere Down in Texas Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Keep Your Hands to Yourself The Georgia Satellites
Good Ol’ Boy Steve Earle
Keep It To Yourself Kacey Musgraves
Fool Hearted Memory George Strait
Down in Flames Stoney LaRue
The Runaround Luke Wade
Wish You Were Here Cody Jinks
Missing You Alison Krauss
She’s Like Texas Josh Abbott Band
11 Months and 29 Days Johnny Paycheck
Once Maren Morris
Purple Rain Dwight Yoakam
July in Cheyenne Aaron Watson
Wildflowers Tom Petty
That Ain’t Country Aaron Lewis
Tempted Marty Stuart
Lonely East TX Nights Whiskey Myers
Flood Gate Erick Willis
Forever Today Reckless Kelly
Gravedigger Willie Nelson
The Rose Hotel Robert Earl Keen
Rose in Paradise Waylon Jennings
Why I Left Atlanta Jason Eady
My Old Man Zac Brown Band
Still Drivin’ Paul Cauthen
Earthbound Rodney Crowell
Sometimes Luke Bell
Jesus & Handbags Dalton Domino
Don’t Forget Where You Come From Kyle Park
Nobody to Blame Chris Stapleton
Drink One More Round Cory Morrow
High Above the Water Parker McCollum
Seven Year Ache Rosanne Cash
We Should Be Friends Miranda Lambert
No Sense in Lovin’ Uncle Tupelo
Bad Liver and a Broken Heart Hayes Carll
Peaceful Easy Feeling Eagles
Trains Bonnie Bishop
Bread and Water Ryan Bingham
Life is a Highway Chris LeDoux
Sink or Swim Austin Allsup
Biscuits Kacey Musgraves
Creek Don’t Rise William Clark Green
A Better Man Clint Black
Keep the Wolves Away Uncle Lucius
Make You Mine High Valley
Rye Whiskey Punch Brothers
Me and Bobby McGee Janis Joplin
New Year’s Day Charlie Robison
American Tobacco Company BJ Barham
Hurt Johnny Cash
Rumorville Brandon Rhyder

Album Premiere: Kirby Brown’s Out of Exile 2

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

After some four years without a release, singer-songwriter Kirby Brown is playing some catch up this year. Out of Exile–a trilogy of three-song EPs–finds the rootsy Brown exploring the human condition in the rawest of ways. As a writer, Brown’s voice has grown and matured. There’s a calm, ripened cadence as he dives into his storytelling.

Always a student of the greats, Brown and company–the ever soaring Texas Gentlemen–roam through the countryside of the American songbook with ease. Pedal steel, keys, and organ warm Brown’s lonesome ballads and intimate journal entries.

“These stories are not just mine, but really are just versions of what I think we all experience,” says Brown. “We all struggle after the same things, wrestle with the same questions.”

It may be a shared struggle, but the reason it bridges the gap is because of Brown’s genuine look inward. He’s honest with himself long before he’s honest with us.

With 1 released this past Fall, Out of Exile 2 finds its’ way out today–which you can purchase here–or get a preview of 2 below. In addition, we caught up with Brown earlier this week to talk about the Out of Exile trilogy, recording at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, and The Texas Gentlemen.

New Slang: You’re releasing this new collection of music in three song bursts. Out of Exile 1 came out in the fall. 2 is out now. Why’d you decide to break them up into EPs rather than a conventional full-length?

Kirby Brown: As an artist, I still believe in making albums–full statements, the flow of track to track, etc. On the other hand, I’ve been sensing a need to get innovative with release strategy in order to keep engaged with our hypothetical audience. Three 3-song EPs seemed like a good way to get a conversation started after not releasing anything for four years. When they’re all out, I’ll put those nine songs out, plus a few more in their original, intended form–as a body of narrative that belong together.

NS: 1 kicks off with a little more of a playful tone with “Joni” and “Little Red Hen,” which has a little bit of that “In Spite of Ourselves” John Prine vibe. This second bunch, they’re a more of an serious bunch. I’m guessing songs weren’t just thrown together in three song sets randomly.

KB: You are correct–and I appreciate your noticing that. To my first point, the purpose of the trilogy of EPs is to get a dialogue going. With any conversation, you start a little more light-hearted and move into your more “serious” subject matter as that evolves. If I’m succeeding as a writer, I’m finding a way to engage both of those sensibilities: the easily accessible and the fun as well as the more introspective and contemplative.

NS: “Paint Horse” feels like it’s very southwestern driven. There’s a Southern California country groove with that pedal steel just dancing on top. Was that originally what you were pushing for when you started writing it or did that feel come into it much later?

KB: “Paint Horse” was the first song we tracked when we started these recording sessions. I don’t know that we had any preconceived notions of what we were going for, except to follow the songs where they naturally led us. That said, the vibe of this track absolutely informed how we thought about the rest of the songs we recorded–especially the ballads. Given our environs there in Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River, we really wanted to chase that muddy, underwater feeling into the rest of what we did. I hope that comes across in the entire collection of songs.

NS: That regret and lonesomeness really carries into “Sweet Shame.” It’s almost like an exhale. You’re a lot more introspective and a bit pensive on the 2 closer. 

KB: I am really proud of that song. I don’t know that I’ve ever done much better lyrically than that second verse:

You’re hanging me up just like a common thief.
If anything will lead you to Calvary,/
It’s the love you can give that no one will receive/
And Eternity is all you can hope for./
You’re holding my heart just like a cigarette;/
At the end of it , you’re dragging what’s left out.
I’m sorry I’m not quite immaculate,/
Or as delicate, as you think./

I wrote that at a time that I felt like I had been used and abused–or to use a familiar equine analogy: “rode hard and put away wet.” The way the recording came across–especially with those Gospel-inspired harmonies that Leon [Bridges] and Tyesha Chaunte did–really felt like letting go. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes you’re not good enough and neither are they. But that’s okay. At least you gave it a shot.

NS: You recorded these down in Muscle Shoals at FAME with Beau Bedford and The Texas Gentlemen backing you up. You’ve known these guys for a while now. How loose were the recording sessions? Did you already kind of have solid ideas for what you wanted or did y’all experiment and figure it out while down at FAME?

KB: The recording sessions were very loose. Lots of laughter, lots of whiskey. We were tracking everything almost completely live. Beau and I had rented a car and driven from NYC to Muscle Shoals while the rest of the guys had journeyed from Texas on their own. We hadn’t all been together in the room with these songs before we arrived in Muscle Shoals, so there was a sense of these songs being born in the moment. But, as you mentioned, having been making music and doing life with these guys for a very long time, it all came together very quickly and naturally.

NS: The whole Texas Gents crew and Bedford are starting to really get that recognition from others outside the DFW and Texas bubbles now. There’s a lot of folks associated, part-timers, songwriters, etc with the Texas Gentlemen now. Why do you think it’s now that the notoriety is coming and things are picking up steam?

KB: I don’t know exactly what it is or where it came from, but praise God for whatever is happening! Having been one of the first five or six guys in the Fraternal Order of Texas Gentlemen, I couldn’t be more grateful to see the success and growth there. We realized eight years ago that there was something special going on and we felt it deserved a little more credit than it got in those early years. I think that’s because our little family is the “real thing”–like living water for the musical soul. We call each other, we party together, we pray for each other, we practice together. And we have an expansive group text thread that is constantly buzzing with something good. I think the kind of authenticity the group espouses is something everyone is attracted to.

As with a tree, it may take some time to see the growth–but eventually you’ve got a monstrous, beautiful thing in your back yard. At that point, if you’re like me, you just try to enjoy lying in the shade.

January Exchange: Texas Country Music (& Other Americana Stories)

Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours

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. Here’s our first official one. Follow Dennis on Twitter here.

Mooney: It’s 2017. That basically means for the last 20ish years, Red Dirt and Texas Country has been in the lexicon. I know. Most people are probably going to argue that The Great Divide, Robert Earl Keen, Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc all made records and music before then. And while true, I think we can all agree that the genres and scene weren’t really a bankable commodity until we were in a Post-Ragweed & Green world. This is going the long way around to get to saying, the last Galleywinter piece had some great points about the evolution of this scene–really how that first wave of folks are getting old. There really isn’t a pretty way to say it. Hell, it’s strange how even just 20 years ago, the difference between Texas Country and Red Dirt was tangible and more concrete. Now, people just use Texas Country as a catchall. In some cases, it’s like a more offensive and blander version of being called Americana. Anyways, Brad Beheler says the last true innovators of the scene were Turnpike and Bingham. I’d agree (you know, because the Cobb crew isn’t a part of this scene the way a lot of people desperately want it to be). Innovative. Who’ll be the next? Who’s actually doing it now?

Dennis: What Pat Green proved, followed soon after by Ragweed, was that Texas (& Red Dirt) music was a business model in and of itself. JJW, REK, & Great Divide built up their craft and then ultimately got signed and subsequently established themselves nationally. PG proved that you could sell 100,000 records out of the back of your van, and build up a following in Texas & surrounding states that was a good living (soon to be a better living than many label deals, which started to dry up around the same time). I think that movement was very exciting, as reflected in the Beheler piece. What Pat did was really turn Texas into a product that music fans bought in large numbers. You can still make a buck off writing the next “Texas” song, but it seems fewer artists are taking that route and more bands are playing the TX/OK circuit while working to avoid the explicit “Texas Country” label. I think bands like Shane Smith & the Saints, Strangetowne, John Baumann, & Grady Spencer & the Work have brought new ideas to the scene, yet they all go in their own direction. But perhaps that’s the world we live in–where the 22-year-olds grew up listening to about every genre and so they’re more likely to be drawn to something different rather than judging whether something is “Texas” enough for their tastes.

Mooney: That’s the beauty and the curse of the whole thing, isn’t it? Most see that “Texas Country” engulfed Red Dirt pretty early on. But what they might not realize is how Texas Country essentially swallowed up the all other smaller genre labels happening in and around Texas as well. Bands playing folk, blues, alt-country, rock & roll, etc all gradually became known as Texas Country–or they decided they’d rather take their chances known as “Americana.” And that’s where all the exciting material really does happen. It’s the on the fringes of “Texas Country” where all the fresh, cutting edge stuff is being made. It’s why the likes of Paul Cauthen, Red Shahan, Courtney Patton, Jonathan Tyler, Wilkerson, Jamie Wilson, Jonny Burke types (and the ones you listed) are cutting edge for one reason or another. They’re fringe characters who are only associated with the label of “Texas Country.” They’re not bound to label and haven’t let TC dictate what they’re going to do next. Those folks are getting outside of Texas and playing. Now, obviously part of why Turnpike, Bingham, Reckless Kelly, Hayes, Musgraves etc are more well-known nationally is because they’re talented, but it’s also because they didn’t get consumed with the Weekend Warrior Texas circuit. 

I’m rambling now. Question: We agree that chasing the easy buck of writing a Texas song has gotten cliché and lazy. Even still, I think it’s a bit of like a right of passage for some of these Texas songwriters–if Gary P. Nunn has “London Homesick Blues,” by god, I’ve gotta have one too. OK. So if that’s the Texas songwriter trope, but’s the Oklahoma songwriter trope?

This songwriter kills fascists.

Dennis: Such a great question. I think Oklahoma songwriters get a certificate from the estate of Woody Guthrie that charges them with not writing cliché songs, or else we’d have “Red Dirt, Red State, Redneck” and “I Fought the Law (and Lawton PD won).” Maybe Oklahomans resent Texan’s grandiose ideas about their state? Or maybe they just decided as long as everyone gets to write a verse to “Boys from Oklahoma,” that would suffice. Of course, there are plenty of songs about Oklahoma, but there is a warmth to their mention in a John Moreland, John Fullbright, or Turnpike song that feels less cheap than your typical Texas song. What differs about those three is of course, Fullbright & Moreland didn’t use the Texas scene as a vehicle to notoriety, whereas Turnpike did, and has arguably changed the scene more than any band the past 10 years. Geographically, the major venues in Oklahoma are not more than a few hours apart, compared to some absurdly long distances in Texas that I’m sure your cousin has posted about in a Facebook meme. Whereas just about every city in Texas has a “Texas country” venue, the Folk/Americana scene doesn’t have much critical mass beyond Austin/Dallas/Houston/(Marfa). Most Austin Americana artists never play Lubbock or other smaller cities, and it’s really hard for a Lubbock band to get a show in Austin. And if you finally do get that gig at North Austin Discount Tire, no one comes out. I think it’s easier for an artist in OKC or Tulsa to focus on those larger urban areas and work the Midwest and Nashville (plus Austin), whereas in Texas there’s a $300 gig to be found in every town above 10,000 people. You take the money and play what they want to hear instead of trying to win over those crowds with your sad experimental Americana.

Mooney: I think the Woody Guthrie thing is the real root of Oklahoma’s songwriting integrity. The Woody and Bob Wills lineage is something they covet and take pride in. Which, you’d think Texans would take pride in the Woody and Wills (God I hope no one writes a song with that as the title) heritage just as much as Oklahomans since both have Texas ties. What you get though is only a few mentions of Woody’s New Year’s resolutions and Bob Wills Day every year. On the OK side, there’s the Woody Guthrie Folk Fest and what not. 

Now this is going to sound like Texan exceptionalism at its’ finest. But I think it may play into why this is. Texas just has too many great classic songwriters. It’s Willie, Guy, Townes, Kristofferson, Shaver, etc. They transcend Texas. They’re, in many ways, larger than life personas. Oklahoma songwriters on the other hand, they feel more like the common man. They’re small town and closer to the bone. I think the Fullbright, McClure, Boland, Canada, Felker, Moreland, Millsap, Bryon White, etc of the world cling onto their own a little tighter than a lot of the bigger Texan stars do to their heroes.

Dennis: Texceptionalism: “we’re the biggest (Alaska doesn’t count), and the best, and we’d never live anywhere else (and have never been anywhere else)” mentality. Turns out there’s a huge music market for telling people how great Texas is. And even Guy, Willie, Waylon, etc, sang about Texas. Yet, Texas Country sort of took a turn when it started singing songs about people singing songs about Texas (“Ol’ Guy Clark can be like a coat from the cold”). I’m sure there’s bad music in Oklahoma, and maybe those people just don’t hit our radar as much. There’s seven times more people in Texas than in Oklahoma and so many more venues. Maybe it just feels like we’re overloaded with guys singing about drinking Lone Star while watching the Cowboys in their Nocona boots because of proximity.

So are the worst elements of “Texas Country” just another form of bro country?

Mooney: Exactly. People don’t want to admit that Texas Country contributed to Bro Country just as much as the Nashville machine did. It’s mainly because–in a strange, bizzaro world way–Bro Country is a form of Outlaw Country. Kind of like how Nu Metal (Korn, Limp Bizkit) wouldn’t have come along without Grunge. Kevin Fowler and Granger Smith have more than dabbled in Bro Country.

I said it back when Guy passed away last year. Guy Clark wrote songs about Texas without ever pandering to the idea of songs about Texas being a commodity. I get that everyone isn’t a Guy Clark–or even wants to be for that matter–but that’s really the whole point, isn’t it? All the most successful Oklahoma guys deep down wish they could be the modern Woody, Wills, Leon, Childers, or McClure. The most successful Texas guys all just want to copy REK’s singalong anthems and tattered rasp.

Songwriting Royalty

Dennis: (Did you mean to say Granger has Dibbled in Bro Country?)

Honestly that speaks to a key point of music. It’s to entertain people and to fulfill them in some way they seek. People don’t go out on Friday night looking to hear “The Randall Knife.” They generally go out to let loose and have a good time, and so bands generally meet them where they are. The people we’ve discussed who push the envelope can broaden the musical horizons of the mainstream, but that just moves the boundaries. And I think that’s what makes it hard to predict the next big thing. Who knew the intro to Baumann’s “Bay City Blues” would resonate so much on radio? I would have told you ahead of time that it was just too far out there for Texas radio. Some of us get addicted to trying to find that next game changer, because after they change things, it’s never the same. You can only read Bukowski the first time once. The beauty of the game changer is, they can’t just be weird for the sake of weird, because novelty acts typically don’t change things. It’s part calculation of stepping a foot outside the mainstream, part luck, and a whole lot of work to convince people what you’re doing is worthwhile. To me, that’s why when everyone agrees on who is going to be the next Isbell, Sturgill, or Stapleton, it’s probably the case that person isn’t going to be the next one. Now everyone has influences, but Turnpike wasn’t the next Bingham, they were just the Turnpike Troubadours. If you think you’re the next Turnpike, turn around and go the other direction.

Mooney: Agreed. There’s not an algorithm to predict who is “next.” It’s kind of like evolution, right? Like somehow we went down this path: Jerry Jeff Walker–>Robert Earl Keen–>Pat Green–>Randy Rogers Band –>Some Kid, Somewhere. I’m sure there’s some steps missing in there if you want to get technical. And it doesn’t mean they didn’t find other influences along the way. But one way or another, that’s an evolutionary pattern. It doesn’t mean Rogers is ripping anyone off. It just means, in a way, we’ve seen this before. I don’t think you can say that about a Turnpike. That’s the original model. But now, you’re seeing a class of bands who you could say are the Turnpike 2.0s in Shane Smith & Flatland. (Note: With Jerry Jeff, it also branched out into a Todd Snider path. Jonny Burke seems to be the next evolutionary step down that way.)

There’s really only one major problem with this though. You can get a few steps away from the innovating pioneer and it can be a lost cause. Easiest example of that is the vocal techniques in the line of Jerry Jeff to RRB. JJW and REK naturally sound that way because they’re not traditionally great singers. What happens a few years from now when some kid is trying to do his Randy Rogers impression and just sounds like a nasally yelper because he’s faking it? I guess what I’m saying is, at some point, our T. Rex is going to end up a chicken.

The Great Gonzo

Dennis: So now we’ve stumbled upon something most people in the TX/OK scene don’t talk a lot about–and that is the fact that part of what makes it a scene for the common man/woman is you don’t have to have a Nashville caliber voice. A select few, perhaps Jason Boland or Randall King, have the vocal tone/range of a Nashville vocalist, but otherwise, most of the vocalists are distinct and have developed their own vocal style, often not one with the technical capabilities of a trained singer. My family listened to Conway Twitty, Glen Campbell, up to George Strait. To them, any voice that didn’t meet those standards wasn’t good music. In fact, they often claimed not to be able to understand the words of said artists. Having limits on vocal range can lead to different innovations. I remember hearing that Townes supposedly said, re: people covering his songs that Don Williams, e.g., can sing his songs however he wants, but Townes himself would sing them how they were supposed to sound (wish I had a source for that). This is also why your incredibly talented high school friend who moved to Nashville never made it big. In a city filled to the brim with the best voices in the country, singing other people’s songs, you’re up against a thousand others doing the same thing. In TX/OK, we get people with a personally tailored sound. Even if Pat Green or Randy Rogers isn’t the greatest singer ever, they found a way to connect with people, which ties back to an earlier point. Music is about connecting with your audience, and a lot of guys in Texas have found a way to make a living playing original music, independent of record labels, because they figured out how to connect with people using the skills they have.

For the sake of the song

Mooney: Excellent point. This is a semi-connected observation. We’ve talked about these “Watershed Years” for some folks. I’ve thrown out that basically each year, a band or artist has a breakthrough. Once they’ve broken through, it goes to the whole “You’re only able to read Bukowski the first time once” thing. You’ve graduated to another level. You’re not watersheding twice–You may innovate more than once, but you’re not having to constantly break on through more than really that first time. (There’s other ways to get to that level, but I’m not going to go through that now.) Typically, it’s a record that does it for you. We’ll go with:

2010: Ryan Bingham Crazy Heart mainly, Junky Star
2011: Hayes Carll KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)
2012: Turnpike Troubadours Goodbye Normal Street & John Fullbright From The Ground Up
2013: Jason Isbell Southeastern & Kacey Musgraves Same Trailer Different Park
2014: Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
2015: Chris Stapleton Traveller
2016: Lori McKenna The Bird & the Rifle and Margo Price Medwest Farmer’s Daughter

Those folks all, for the most part tapped into and perfected whatever specific thing they did well in those years. And for the most part, they all have transcendent vocals. They may not be right on par with Whitley, Strait, Campbell, Dolly, etc but they are, for the most part, within a few steps. Question: How much of their success is tied to them having Top 40 Nashville-Lite voices? Is that just a prerequisite one must have to achieve success with the masses?

Dennis: Personally, I see a mix of both pure & cultivated vocalists in that list. Hayes Carll has maximized the utility of his voice, whereas Sturgill seems to have all the tools of the best vocalists, but his challenge was figuring out how to rein it in. Neither one would be interesting to me if they were singing “Huntin, Fishin’ & Loving Everyday” (Side note: It annoys me that Luke Bryan abbreviates this is as “HFE”), but “Beaumont” and “Pan Bowl” can damn near bring me to tears. Still. 

Men & Vintage Neon Signs

Mooney: That’s probably the right answer. They’re all playing with loaded decks. We’ve already said it a handful of times–that it’s difficult to next to impossible to foresee who the next innovator and/or Watershed Year winner. But staying on the sidelines isn’t really fun. Speculating and predicting is where the fun is. Who’s your Starting Five when it comes to “Most Likely to be the next innovator and/or Watershed Year winner?”

Picks have to currently meet two out of the three following qualifiers: Less than 20K Facebook likes, less than 10K on Twitter, and/or less than 50K plays on Spotify.

I’m going in no particular order: 1) John Moreland, 2) Red Shahan, 3) Paul Cauthen, 4) Colter Wall, 5) Kaitlin Butts five years from now.

Moreland is about as safe a pick as there is out there. Right now, he’s in that Isbell Here We Rest spot. Red and Cauthen are both guys I’ve been high on for about ever. If asked five years ago, they’d have both been on my list then too. Wall kind of has that movie boost in the same way Bingham got with Crazy Heart. And Butts, her first record is filled with Musgraves-esque quirks, but I think she’s finding her own path soon enough.

Course, we’ll both be wrong and it’ll end up being some virtually unknown chopping wood in Eastern Oklahoma or Western Arkansas. 

Dennis: Or one of us will end up being the guy who predicted a 2016 Cubs World Series in his 1993 year book.

So it seems we’re talking watershed beyond the Texas/Red Dirt scene (which is an entirely different prediction), and I’m going to purposely try not to duplicate yours (except Moreland). Further, your watershed list is a mix of people we knew about for 10 years before their breakout (Isbell) and people who rocketed up very quickly (Sturgill). Should I include Sam Outlaw just to see if I catch a mouthful of fire from a certain Houston music writer? Probably not. I still don’t get California country post-Dwight. I’m not including any bands here, because if I do, they will break up within a year.

1) John Baumann, 2) Lydia Loveless, 3) Cory Branan, 4) Parker Millsap, 5) John Moreland

I have one artist I would love to predict publicly, but this person is so new they don’t have a record out yet, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to mention them. I’m letting New Slang know who it is, just one name, and that’s my Hail Mary pass.

And our collective pick: Someone backed by and/or connected to The Texas Gentlemen.

Mooney: So that’s either Quaker City Night Hawks, Kirby Brown, Cauthen, Jonathan Tyler, Larry Gee, K. Phillips, Dovetail, Wesley Geiger, The Misteries, Rise & Shine, Bad Mountain, and/or Kris Kristofferson.

Texas Gentlemen

Song Premiere: Croy and the Boys’ “Leavings The Last Thing”

coreybaum1 by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Croy and the Boys is another band in the long line of honky-tonk aficionados hailing from Austin. On Hey Come Back, their debut release,  is a blend of traditional honky-tonk ramblers, cosmic country ballads, and conjunto Tex-Mex that’s both as refreshing as it is a nod to the likes of pioneers Jerry Jeff Walker, Gram Parsons, and the like.

On the closing number, “Leavings The Last Thing,” lead vocalist and chief lyricist Corey Baum channels the classic Gary P. Nunn song “The Last Thing I Needed The First Thing This Morning” (popularized by Willie Nelson) with a smooth, revealing lines while legendary accordion player Joel Guzman adds a punch of Tex-Mex flair on the confessional.

“This song took us the longest to finish because Adrain Quesada (producer) and I were dead set on finding a more traditional conjunto style button accordion player, which can be harder to come by than piano accordion players,” says Baum. “We eventually managed to convince the legendary Joel Guzman to come in and lay it down and it was well worth the wait.”

Listen to “Leavings The Last Thing” below. Hey Come Back is available on iTunes here.

Song Premiere: Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward

RodneyParker5by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

When Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward began recording their upcoming album, Bomber Heights, it was last September. One year later, their third full-length is finally getting a release date–September 16. During that time, the band took more time off the road than originally anticipated.

“What we thought was going to be a little time off to make the album, but it turned out to be like nine months,” says Parker. “That was OK. It was good for us to recharge the batteries a little bit.”

With highly acclaimed producer Matt Pence (Centro-Matic, Justin Townes Earle, Quaker City Night Hawks) at the helm, Parker and company had the time and experienced guide to navigate them into the right directions throughout. At nine-tracks long, Pence, RP50PR, and a host of seasoned musicians–both in the form of Pesos and in new collaborators-crafted an album that’s as tightly woven as it is comfortable and worn.

Throughout Bomber Heights, you see Parker return to familiar subjects like heartbreak and breakup. But rather than rehashing the past, you see Parker come at it from new angles. There’s perhaps no better example of that than “The Day Is Coming.”

“The Day Is Coming” is very much like the antithesis of The Lonesome Dirge‘s “I’m Never Getting Married.” Rather than being the anthemic bar rally of a Saturday night that “I’m Never Getting Married” is, “The Day Is Coming” finds Parker in a much more sombre mood as he’s counting down the days to a wedding–that’s not his own. This time around though, it’s without beer clinks, clanks, and toasts. It’s with sobering coffee and Parker looking himself in the mirror.

Listen to the rocking ballad “The Day Is Coming” exclusively below.

In addition, listen to our latest podcast episode with Rodney Parker here.

Bomber Heights Tracklist

1. Steppin’ into Sunshine
2. Skin and Bones
3. Lewis
4. I Am a Cinematographer
5. The Road Between None and Some
6. The Day Is Coming
7. Night in My Hand
8. Ballast
9. Moon

 

Album Premiere: Austin Meade’s Heartbreak Coming

Austin Meadeby: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Austin Meade’s Heartbreak Coming, his third release in as many years, arrives this Friday (Preorder it on iTunes here).

The Texas songwriter hones in on specifics–storylines and sound in particular–on the five-track EP. Where previous efforts may have found Meade wanting to go off in as many directions, Heartbreak Coming finds him controlling those temptations. Throughout, he sticks to not just what feels most comfortable, but also what works best.

In many respects, Meade’s foundational sound is built upon the many days and nights of spinning Ryan Adams’ records. Heartbreak Coming certainly finds its base line nestled somewhere between Adams’ alt-country guitar-driven Cold Roses and the dark, bleak affairs of 29‘s folk storytelling. With Jay Saldana and Elijah Ford at the producing helm, the two make a formidable combination on the strong third efforts from Meade.

Opener “Born With a Broken Heart” sets itself up as a nice, windows down anthem. Armed with its’ Jayhawks-ian chorus and driving guitars, the song feels more encompassing and rosy than the song’s true core. At the center, it’s Meade detailing a breakup and/or missed connection to a close friend–perhaps even rehashing the details to himself. Still, you feel the sweet combination of cool breeze and the warmth of the sun’s rays on the summer anthem.

The reflective “Meant For More” lays out some of Meade’s best detailing to date. The opening lines about old white houses, rusted yield signs, and splintering fence posts pop up and come to life on Meade’s canvas. Here, we feel the addictive hardships of life on the road and the weekend warrior realities of band life. Meade’s wallflower observations of bar life are spot on throughout while his inner thoughts provide insightful optimism.

Closing the EP is “Written in Stone,” perhaps the strongest track on Heartbreak Coming. There’s a sparse arrangement that’s built on cold drums, thin piano, and shimmering cameos of guitar lines that pierce and plunge as often and as deep as Meade’s conceding lines on defeat, heartbreak and grief. Love is hell.

Exclusively listen to Meade’s Heartbreak Coming below. Preorder it on iTunes here. Heartbreak Coming is officially available Friday, June 03.