Album Premiere: Jerry Serrano’s The Moon

Jerry Serrano. Photography by Gerald Salzarulo.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Field Report: (New) American Aquarium

BJ Barham of American Aquarium. Photography by Tim Castleman.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

American Aquarium, with a new, revamped lineup in tow, kicked off their Fall 2017 tour at Lubbock’s Blue Light last night to a sold out crowd. The countdown for this night has been ticking ever since five of the six members of the “Classic American Aquarium” lineup stepped away from the band this past Spring.

With lead vocalist BJ Barham crisscrossing the Lower 48 on a solo tour and the rest of the band–Ryan Johnson, Whit Wright, Bill Corbin, Kevin McClain, and Colin Dimeo–all settling into life after AA, rumors and uncertainty filled the void left behind. Would this be the end of the band as we knew it? Solo? Split? Whatever the case, the passionate die-hard AA fandom–and Americana and Texas music circuits at large–wanted some kind of answer to the unresolved.

A month ago, Barham announced a two-month Fall Tour with a new cast of players–Ben Hussey, Joey Bybee, Shane Boeker, and Adam Kurtz in the fold. Last night, was the night.

For tickets and more information on American Aquarium’s current tour, click here.

  • It’s difficult to talk about new AA without contextualizing and understanding how we got here. There’s a history with this band that runs a decade, six studio albums, an EP, and two live albums back. The “Classic” lineup was as sharp and tight a band as one would find. It grew into a well-oiled machine that seemingly never lost their footing with a misplaced note. By all means, they were hitting their stride. And while Barham was always the frontman, you thought of them more as a single unit than individuals or as hired guns.
  • The Blue Light was the perfect place for them to kick off this tour. By all means, Lubbock is an AA town unlike any other. It was shooting fish in a barrel–even if they’d have fallen flat. No matter how confident you are in your own abilities, there’s little doubt Hussey, Bybee, Boeker, Kurtz, and Barham were looking to get this one out of the way. It’s a bit of an exhale and shaking out the nerves.
  • It’s still slightly weird on the visual side. It’s going to be. It kind of has to be. After seeing upwards of 20-25 AA/Barham shows the last handful of years, it’s weird seeing Barham up there with different folks. And when you’ve seen Hussey, Bybee, and Boeker (This is the first time seeing Kurtz on stage) multiple times in various bands over the years, it’s amplified. It wasn’t that long ago Bybee would have been in the crowd at Blue Light for an AA show. It’s not bad by any means. Just strange–almost like a dream when you realize something is slightly off.
  • Up to this point, they’ve only had two rehearsals under their belt. Currently, they aren’t who they’ll end up being after a couple of weeks of nightly shows. And that’s fine. In many ways, I kind of wish Lubbock was mid-tour instead of the launch point. Their performance was solid. I wouldn’t say paint by numbers exactly, but the four behind Barham are stretching into their roles. It’s not just growing into the songs either. It’s growing to understand one another on stage.
  • For the most part, they played the songs true to form. There wasn’t a lot of coloring outside the lines. I think that’ll come in time. An example of that is fairly simple. With Classic AA, the interludes between songs was the icing on the cake. They seamlessly transitioned from one to next. Music was a constant. Those little touches haven’t found their way into the mix just yet. But again, only two rehearsals and a show into playing.
  • Even with a seasoned veteran cast, you could sense everyone was laying back and letting Barham lead the charge. It was the most animated I’ve seen him in some time. He was out in front throwing punches with his vocal delivery. The Springsteen Stomp was fully charged. The Cash Guitar Raise was in full motion. Even the “Like Wilson Pickett, we were moving and shaking” of “St. Mary’s” coming out in full force. I think that’s going to be paramount going forward. Barham has to ensure crowds believe in this AA as the band gets their reps in.
  • They didn’t just play any 18 songs within the AA catalog; they played 18 of the hits. Staples, classics, singalongs that make a crowd grow into a fury. This too, I think will help make the transition go smoothly. It was a lot of “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” “Wolves,” “Cape Fear River,” and “Casualties.”
  • One of the best things about Classic AA was Johnson, Dimeo, and Wright bouncing off one another. There was a familiarity they had with one another that created a unique and specific ambiance. On the surface, it was trading guitar solos back and forth. But deep down, it was filling in the void and creating a boundless backdrop. You could see the baseline of that happening with Boeker and Kurtz last night. There’s a shimmering, shoegazy element to Boeker’s guitar and Kurtz pedal steel playing. Deep into the set, when they went “Cape Fear River,” “Family Problems,” “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” and “Burn. Flicker. Die.” there were some of these moments. Again, they’re just now peeling back that top layer of their potential.
  • Flatland Cavalry played the night before. Another sold out affair. Two singalong nights in a row–almost juxtaposed to one another. Flatland was primarily girls singing out loud, hoping to find the perfect man. AA was a lot of drunk dudes singing to one another about the women who had broken their hearts over the years. Still, every girl in that bar looked like 1965–or at least tried.
  • Despite Barham hinting at new material coming in the near future the past few weeks, no new material was debuted. Only time will tell if any new material gets thrown into the mix on this tour. I’m betting something will.
  • “Northeast Texas Women” by Willis Alan Ramsey has become a staple of the AA set. As Barham mentioned last night, the Ramsey album is now on Spotify. Listen to it religiously here.

American Aquarium Setlist
Lubbock, TX.The Blue Light.08/31/17
01) Wolves
02) Wichita Falls
03) Casualties
04) St Mary’s
05) Lonely Ain’t Easy
06) Jacksonville
07) Good Fight
08) Losing Side of Twenty-Five
09) Rattlesnake
10) Louisiana Beauty Queen
11) Southern Sadness
12) Nothing To Lose
13) Cape Fear River
14) Family Problems
15) I Hope He Breaks Your Heart
16) Burn. Flicker. Die
17) Katherine Belle
18) Northeast Texas Women [Willis Alan Ramsey]

Turnpike Troubadours Listening Guide: A Primer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Light Fall 2017 Singer-Songwriter Competition Announced

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: Jaguar’s Club t-shirt.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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).”

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

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men & Vintage Neon Signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But just imagine.

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

Album Premiere: Madisons’ No Man’s Land

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviews: John Baumann

by: Thomas D. Mooney

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

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

Locating the Lubbock Sound

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