Album Premiere: Zoe Carter’s Self-Titled Debut

Zoe Carterby: Thomas D. Mooney

Last Fall, Zoe Carter won The Blue Light Fall Singer-Songwriter competition. In many ways, it was a testament to Carter’s persistence and continuing growth as a songwriter and performer as it was natural talent. Her win wasn’t just because she had two great songs and a great performance that night–that was certainly part of that–but it was also built and earned on the Mondays when no one was watching (And, I’d add she still goes to nearly every Monday).

Adding her name to the list of Songwriter winners hasn’t changed the Lubbock songwriter’s foundation and philosophy on how to write, but there certainly has been a boost of confidence in Carter’s presence. It’s not everything, but it is something.

Fast forward a few months and Carter is releasing her debut self-titled EP. Recorded at Route 1 Acuff Studios with Alan Crossland at the helm, the six-tracker guides its’ way smoothly from start to finish without snags of monotony or drivel.

Part of Carter’s charm is her grasp of the English language. She doesn’t settle for common and overused words. Rarely does it feel forced or aloof. While “Barroom Muse” does slightly feel like a writing exercise turn song, she doesn’t spend too much time trying to force square pegs in round holes.

“Crosby County Blues” is Carter’s glowing moment on the EP. It’s where her casual country folk blends in perfectly with Laurel Canyon ’70s emotion and West Texas dust and landscape. It feels as close to Susan Gibson or Wade Parks as anyone has ventured in recent memory. Musically, the fiddle and guitar twang puts her right in step with Ryan Bingham’s early tune “Roadhouse Gypsy.” It’s a dusty, windswept song. Lines like “I’ve gotta bottle in my hand and some real bad news” are delivered perfectly with Carter’s warm quivering voice. It lets the sad sinking feeling ease its’ way in.

For the most part, the EP is intimate bedroom folk that traverses into diary highlights ever so often. Zoe Carter is just that. There’s not any moments where she steers off that course in search of a pandering radio ballad or “I’m just one of the guys, y’all. See? I drink too!” party anthem attempts. It’s Carter doing Carter in her own distinct Carter way.

Exclusively stream Carter’s debut EP below. Her CD release show is this upcoming Wednesday, April 20 at The Blue Light. Zoe Carter is officially released this coming Friday, April 22.

Photography: William Clark Green Street Party at The Blue Light

William Clark Greenby: Thomas D. Mooney

Buddy Holly’s statue stares off into the distance. A block over on the street that bears his name, William Clark Green is having a street show party out in front of The Blue Light. Storms are brooding off in the distance. Armed with his colossal Stratocaster, Holly acts as a warning to rain clouds and thunderheads as if saying “None shall pass.” Holly, the patron saint of Lubbock Music.

Green and company–a clan consisting of American Aquarium, Red Shahan, and Flatland Cavalry–start the day off with confidence, but a concerned eye glued to doppler radar and local weather reports.

Starting at 8 am, an imposing stage is being raised in the intersection of Buddy Holly and 18th. Cones, street barriers, trolleys of beer, signs, flags, trash cans, BBQ smoking on the side, speakers and amps, makeshift bars, guitars and cases, chairs and tables, cables and cash registers, buckets of t-shirts, koozies, CDs, vinyl, buck whiskey bottles, and a whole of burn extract begin taking shape into something recognizing a day festival of music. A colony of Blue Light staff come in and out the The Blue Light like a colony of ants out of a mound.

Inside in pool room, Green and BJ Barham of American Aquarium are finishing up a podcast episode with us. They bounce cordial–but sincere–lines of reverence off one another before letting loose a little and diving deep into music conversation. We hit record.

A line forms. Doors won’t be officially open until 7 pm, but there they form a line snaking around the barriers and going down the far sidewalk in front of Triple J’s. You can hear an echo when you walk into Blue Light still. It’s a calm before the eventual storm of people who will crowd the bar. Get a beer and shot while you still can.

At 7:15 sharp, Flatland drummer Jason Albers begins pounding a beat. One by one, Flatland comes out adding more to Albers’ hammer downs.

So it goes.

Below is a section of photographs taken throughout the day. For more, check out New Slang’s Flickr page here.

Album Premiere: Chancy Bernson’s Back in Time

Bernson by: Thomas D. Mooney

Amarillo singer-songwriter Chancy Bernson is coming in on releasing his third full-length album–fourth release overall–this week. The 10-track Back in Time will officially be released Friday, April 15, along with a CD release at Amarillo’s Golden Light on Saturday, April 16.

On Back in Time’s lead single, “Burning Up the Highway,” Bernson continues to shape a narrative of a self-proclaimed “weekend drifter”–a weekend warrior of sorts driving from home-to-work-to-gig-to-gig-to-home-to-hit-repeat. “Running behind but never late” may be the most revealing line in the Cross Canadian Ragweed-esque garage rocker. It’s perhaps not as edgy or “rock and roll” as some of his contemporaries weekend endeavors are glamorized to be, but it’s honest representation nonetheless.

Really, the only misstep–more of a missed opportunity–of the song is the placement on Back in Time’s tracklist. Bernson opens up with “It took me six songs to get to work,” which would have fit possibly better in the seventh slot rather than the eighth.

Like the lead single, much of Bernson’s Back in Time plays like a Texas country album of the early 2000s. There’s plenty of rough around the edges country rockers like “A Little While,” and “Sign of the Times,” but the real highlights of the album come when Bernson and company trade in their honky-tonk or bar band grit for something more laid back and down home.

Songs like “Sober,” “The Flame,” “Floods,” and album closer “Without You Now” find Bernson in a familiar comfort. It’s songs that aren’t just driven by his acoustic guitar, but songs that fit the acoustic world. “Without You Now” specially has that introspective quality we all look for in songs.

Perhaps the best moment(s) on the album are the two versions of “Sober”–the latter version coming in the form of a hidden acoustic song a few minutes after “Without You Now.” There, Bernson’s break-up ballad has harsh clarity. There, the telling chorus line “I don’t want to drink alone, but I don’t want to be sober” hits hardest. It’s not just a binge drinking world out there.

Listen exclusively to Bernson’s Back in Time below before the release Friday.

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 006 Ben Hussey of Dolly Shine

Ben Husseyby: Thomas D. Mooney

This week, we sit down with Ben Hussey, bassist of Stephenville’s country roots band Dolly Shine. Hussey, one of Six Market Blvd’s founding members, has been a pioneering voices in Stephenville’s small, but strong music scene. As part of 6MB, he opened up doors for bands not just from the area, but in many ways, bands out in Lubbock and songwriters of Ft. Worth. With former 6MB guitarist Josh Serrato, they formed Boy Street Recording Studio and have been producing, engineering, and playing on a growing roster of EPs and records by the likes of Brandon Adams, Dolly Shine, Joe Teichman, and Jon Young.

This episode is presented by The Blue Light Live.

Album Premiere: Grady Spencer & The Work’s The Line Between

Grady Spencer & The Work. First photograph by Landan Luna/New Slang. Photo above by M.D. Allen Photography.
Grady Spencer & The Work. First photograph by Landan Luna/New Slang. Photo above by M.D. Allen Photography.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

“I drink my beer at a tavern and sing a little bit of these working man blues.” –Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues”

Earlier this year, Grady Spencer & The Work announced their upcoming album, The Line Between, would be released in the Spring. Now, the 13-track album has an official release date of Friday, April 22–with an official Album Release Show the following day at The Blue Light in Lubbock. Spencer and The Work, his sound and steadfast four-piece, stayed close to home to record the hearty and robust album with a recording stayover at January Sound Studio in Dallas.

Much like Spencer’s catalog–Sleep, Sunday’s Ships, and The Seminole Optimist’s ClubThe Line Between finds Spencer working within the realm of fat guitar lines, sharp tones, and a warm smoothness that weaves itself throughout. Though, this time around, it’s his best sounding. Sonically, it wraps around you with its pristine, natural glow. Four albums in, Spencer is still reinventing and finding comfortable, but refreshing grooves for his ever-evolving storytelling to live in.

As a songwriter, Spencer is a swinging hammer. Each time, he’s hitting the proverbial nail in the board a little further down. It’s always been clear that Spencer’s main muse has been his wife, but an underlying theme has always been the blue-collar working man. It’s always been a lone line or phrase–something that when stacked with others, showed Spencer’s week-day world.

While previous works found Spencer hitting his stride on first-person love ballads, but songs like “Goats” falls closer to the likes of River-era Springsteen and Songs by John Fullbright. Here, for the first real time, we see Spencer holding the short end of the stick. He’s a doomed man–not because of any character flaws–but because he’s willing to bet on himself.

In many ways, The Line Between finds Spencer stretching his legs as a songwriter. Songs like “Winning Wrong,” “Same Place” and  “Goats” have the consistent groove we’re familiar with, but see Spencer’s storytelling grow and some of his luck running out–or at least grounded in the realities of a harsh, relatable world. And while Spencer grows as a gloomy, somber storyteller in the midst of dark days, he stays as reliable as ever in bright, crisp love anthems and singalong choruses. Songs like “Nothing is Bad” and “Find You” are like worn denim shirts. They’re comfortable, lived in moments.

Exclusively listen to “Nothing is Bad,” “Winning Wrong,” and Take My Hell,” the first three tracks of The Line Between below.

The Line Between Tracklist

01) Winning Wrong
02) Nothing is Bad
03) Take My Hell
04) By Now
05) Wedding Ring
06) Austin
07) Thick and Thin
08) Find You
09) Same Place
10) Goats
11) True Love Will Wait
12) Not Alone
13) Home Remedy


The New Slang Podcast: Episode 005 Emergency Episode with Danny Cadra & Parker Morrow

Photo Apr 07, 10 04 12 AMby: Thomas D. Mooney

As most know by now, the world lost one of the pioneering voices in Country and American music yesterday with the passing of Merle Haggard. As things would happen to be, it was Haggard’s 79th birthday as well. After heading the news, we decided an emergency episode talking about the lasting impact of Haggard was necessary. Lubbock songwriter-musicians Danny Cadra and Parker Morrow–possibly the biggest Haggard die-hards within the Lubbock scene–join us for a rare one-off episode.

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 004 Drew Kennedy

Photo Apr 05, 11 15 53 PM
Drew Kennedy at The Cactus Theater. Photograph by Thomas D. Mooney/New Slang.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

Episode Four of The New Slang Podcast features Texas singer-songwriter Drew Kennedy. The New Braunfels-based Kennedy is currently recording his eighth album–At Home In The Big Lonesome. A natural conversationalist, Kennedy can talk about just about anything–and with anyone. It’s, in part, what makes him a great songwriter. Add that honest understanding with his keen sense of timing, easy and simple, yet elegant and insightful thoughts and lines, it’s easy to see why Kennedy is often considered one of the best in songwriting circles in Texas and around the nation. We recorded the conversation on a Sunday afternoon at Tom’s Daiquiri. He’d drove into town earlier that day to open up for The Trishas later that night. For Kennedy’s Kickstarter page, click here.

This episode is presented by The Blue Light Live 

Goodbye Normal Street: Scoreboard Watching in Lubbock, Texas

Humble Folksby: Thomas D. Mooney

“From a musicological point of view, that album is a watershed moment. That’s when Lubbock music grew up.” 
–Andy Wilkinson on Terry Allen’s Lubbock (on Everything) 

“Going to climb that mountain with all my friends.” 
–Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry on “Devil On My Back.”

37 years ago, Terry Allen released Lubbock (on Everything). It’s widely considered the greatest, most complete piece of work in Panhandle Music history. It is the Lubbock album.

It’s not as though Allen returned to Lubbock in 1978 and declared himself king of a nonexistent scene. He didn’t create Lubbock music over the course of a double platter record. But like fellow Lubbock singer-songwriter Andy Wilkinson said about Allen, the album was a watershed moment.

It was the album that kicked everything into a higher gear. It energized a music scene that was ready to take on the world outside of Lubbock. Lubbock legends Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Maines Brothers, Jesse “Guitar” Taylor, David Halley, Jay Boy Adams, Mac Davis, Bob Livingston, Jo Carol Pierce, Tommy X Hancock and The Supernatural Family Band were already on the cusp of a music revolution. Lubbock (on Everything) just sped things up. It made being a Lubbock artist chic–for both those on the come up and for those who had been chiseling away for years in Hub City. In short, the making of Lubbock benefited everyone who ever claimed to be a Lubbock musician–even if for some, that was indirectly or perhaps, not asked for.

Fast forward the current age and we’re perhaps seeing another “Lubbock watershed moment” in real time with the overnight success of Flatland Cavalry’s Humble Folksan album that made it into the Top 30 selling albums overall on iTunes this past Friday. Various publications are already calling the 11-track album the best of the new year by any Texas or country act.

So is it?

Being as it’s only five days since the actual release date, we may be are rushing to judgement with even considering Humble Folks a watershed album for Lubbock. But it doesn’t mean it’s totally an unwarranted question.

If you’ve followed New Slang for any reasonable amount of time, you’re fully aware that we’ve been calling Lubbock’s music scene the most underrated and genuinely the epicenter of Texas music for essentially the last five years. That ultimately means that we’d consider the successes of songwriters and bands who have making music over the last decade in the Panhandle already worthy of a listening to. It means there’s always been a plethora of overlooked talent.

Now, obviously there will probably be a small sliver of you calling even the suggestion that Flatland’s Humble Folks more important than [insert the Lubbock album title of your liking here] preposterous and perhaps, even borderline sacrilegious.

Albums such as William Clark Green’s Rose Queen, Thrift Store Cowboys’ Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping, Cary Swinney’s Martha, Amanda Shires’ Carrying Lightning,  Brandon Adams’ Brandon Adams & The Sad Bastards,  Charlie Shafter’s 17th & Chicago, One Wolf’s One Wolf II, Josh Abbott’s Small Town Family Dream, and many, many others are all testaments to that notion. Those all could have been what busted the door down and made the collective heads of the masses turn and acknowledge what’s been going on in Lubbock in the last 15-20 years. But they ultimately didn’t–no matter if they were successful, critically acclaimed, influential, or landmark pieces of art (Side Note: In the summer, we’ll be counting down our Top 100 Lubbock Releases of the last 15 Years. It’s then when you’ll see our overall breakdown of what’s been the “best.”)

We’re not here arguing that Humble Folks is any better than Lubbock albums released by William Clark Green, Red Shahan, Daniel Markham, Amanda Shires, or Kenneth O’Meara over the last few years. We’d actually argue that all of those were vital to even get to this place. Take an album out and we’re possibly talking about Randall King or Grady Spencer’s watershed moment.

Conversely, Green, Abbott, Bowen, Thrift Store Cowboys, etc would be part of the foundation on which Flatland ultimately built upon. Without context and climate, perhaps Cordero and company’s Humble Folks isn’t even Humble Folks.

It’s important not compare Lubbock (on Everything) and Humble Folks outright. We’re not here to compare the artistic value of the albums. But rather, it’s about the climates in which they arrived. It’s about what happened directly before and ultimately, what’s to come in both the immediate and long-term future.

What hurts Humble Folks watershed case most would be time–or the lack thereof. With Lubbock, we have the luxury of now realizing Allen is a musical genius who transcended Lubbock and the state of Texas. His work not only influenced his peers within the Panhandle, but all over Texas not to mention abroad. It’s just as easy to see Allen’s influence on The Maines Brothers Band and Delbert McClinton as it is to see on Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, and David Byrne. Allen’s impact wasn’t just limited to those making music in days of Lubbock either. Modern contemporaries such as Ryan Bingham, Evan Felker, and Natalie Maines all find something in Allen’s work that moves them.

In 10 years, we could be seeing a whole generation of songwriters and bands claiming a Flatland influence. But we also could be calling Humble Folks an anomaly. I highly doubt it, but it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities.

The quality of the album is important. It’s what gives an album longevity. But, the quality of the album and whether it’s a watershed album aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’d be nice if they were, but it’s not as though we haven’t seen inferior albums spark recognition for an area, scene, or genre.

The longterm effects of Humble Folks and Flatland Cavalry as a whole won’t be fully understood for years. What is though, is the shift and turn of the tides. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The success of Flatland isn’t going to just give them heightened acclamation and notoriety. It’s going to be the Panhandle as a whole that ultimately reaps those benefits.

The true litmus test will not be just how many arrive for future Flatland shows, how many copies of Humble Folks exchange hands, and the number of articles and reviews written about them. But rather, how many show up looking for the next Next Big Thing (Hell, even acknowledging and referencing back to Green’s Ringling Road may be revealing the true watershed record.) It’ll be measured by how outsiders view Lubbock and Panhandle bands over the course of the next decade–if Lubbock goes from underrated to properly rated, to ultimately overrated.

Maybe the floodgates are open.

The New Slang Podcast: Episode 003 Shane Smith & The Saints

Shane Smith performing "Whiskey & Water." Photograph by Thomas D. Mooney/New Slang.
Shane Smith performing “Whiskey & Water.” Photograph by Thomas D. Mooney/New Slang.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

This week’s episode is with the ever so talented Texas songwriter Shane Smith. Him and his band–The Saints–are hot off the release of their sophomore album, the rich, gritty, and earthy Geronimo. Smith and company are like modern frontiersmen on the album as they search for the open west and American spirit with hearty, warm ballads, haunting tales, and dark road songs. On Episode Three of The New Slang Podcast, we dive into the evolution of Smith’s songwriting, the making of Geronimo, and the long road the band is constantly conquering. At the end, Smith performs the intimate ballad “Whiskey & Water.”

This episode is presented by The Blue Light Live and Dalton Domino’s Drinko Music Fest happening at The Blue Light on May 10.

Subscribe to The New Slang Podcast on iTunes here.

Album Premiere: Flatland Cavalry’s Humble Folks

Flatland Cavalryby: Thomas D. Mooney

“Put a score on the board for the humble folks.”

Last month, I did an In Profile on Flatland Cavalry featured in Lone Star Music Magazine. During that sit down with Cleto Cordero, Flatland Cavalry’s lead vocalist and chief songwriter, he mentioned how he hoped the material making its’ way onto Humble Folks would make people realize he wasn’t “The ‘Summertime Love’ Kid” anymore–or at least he wasn’t just that.

On their sophomore release, their first full-length, Cordero does his best to shake the pigeonhole-typecast scenario. Still, there’s plenty of that same young & dumb love and love loss flowing on the 11-track record to feel like the growing, mature companion piece to Come May.

If anything, on Humble Folks, Cordero has the room necessary to stretch out completely and expand his heartache heavy world. In addition, he adds broke-in Desert-Meets-the-Panhandle vignettes to balance the load.

As much as there’s maturation in Cordero’s lyricism and a growing confidence in his West Texas drawl, Humble Folks’ love songs further the loose narrative set in Come May. Like Come May, Humble Folks opens up with “One I Want,”  an airy, crisp, and light song about falling in love, before falling into regretful daydreams and callbacks.

The lead single, “February Snow” marks that coming of age for Flatland Cavalry–the so-called antithesis of “Summertime Love.” It’s here those jets of gentle, cool summer breezes turn into the blistering cold fronts of a winter left alone. This darkness creeps into Flatland’s and sets a mood for much of the album tone.

The songs “Tall City Blues,” “Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson),” and “Devil on My Back” complete the trio that serve as the album’s backbone. Here, Cordero buries himself into characters looking to run–from the mundane, the law, and from those habits too tough to kick.

They get a boost on “Coyote” with the sighting of William Clark Green singing half the verses. It’s a dusty, worn tale where Cordero’s guitar shakes the dust with every shortened strum.

The band surrounding Cordero–Reid Dillon, Laura Jane, Jason Albers, and Jonathan Saenz–find and work out grooves that feel like old abandoned horse trails in deep West Texas. They don’t just serve the backdrop of Cordero’s character sketches, but rather, they push the narratives into dark country and folk.

They’re the devil’s hounds chomping at Cordero’s heels. They’re the shimmering office buildings and the oil boom when it goes bust. They’re the shaking of a mesquite tree revealing the Feds.

Perhaps the crowning achievement on Humble Folks is the West Texas anthem “Stomping Grounds.” Under its’ bonfire glow, Shiner Bock gulps, and Waylon Jennings references, there’s a love song in there.

“Bring a bottle of Tennessee for two, I’ll be pushing up daisies just for you,” Cordero sings on the barn burner. It’s a seasoned notion and line nestled in what’ll mostly be considered a drinking singalong.

“Should have kept my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t have to give you one last hug. Maybe then i wouldn’t be so fucked up” leaves all the cards on the table in the somber and sobering “Goodbye Kiss.” It’s the song that kept Cordero up at night and the one he finished for himself more so than for the album.

Oklahoma songwriter Kaitlin Butts joins in on “A Life Where We Work Out.” Cordero and Butts exchange verses of a life set in a parallel universe where, as you’d expect, their lives are still intertwined. For as cordial that sounds, it’s maybe as bleak as the overcast skies and snow drifts in “February Snow.”

The closing statement on for the album is the ringing “Humble Folks.” It not only serves as nod to those who’ve helped them get here–namely, their parents and family–but possibly as a hint of where they’ll go next.

The reverb in Cordero’s microphone and the sweet blend of guitars and fiddle bleeding into one another show promise of a band not finished and consumed with past–albeit, at this point, short–success of a sound tried and true. It’s not a full on kick of a door off its’ hinges, but the hinges are indeed busted.

Flatland Cavalry will have their first Humble Folks album release show this Friday at The Blue Light with Kaitlin Butts opening.  Order Humble Folks on Lone Star Music here.

Exclusively listen to Humble Folks below.

Locating the Lubbock Sound

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