Tag Archives: Lubbock Music

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.

Burning Photographs: Ghost Towns

Photo Jul 19, 11 07 56 PM (1)by: Thomas D. Mooney

The new Lubbock songwriter did not show.

For all the high praise the proverbial Lubbock singer-songwriter is getting these days, there was very few of them in attendance last night when two of Lubbock’s critically acclaimed—Cary Swinney and Wade Parks—took the stage at The Blue Light. The show, billed as part of a Lubbock Legends series orchestrated by Brandon Adams and The Blue Light, was, in short, a string of phenomenal sets by Parks, Swinney, the opening Charlie Stout, and inbetweener spurts by Robin Griffin, a legend in his own right.

Call it an outlying, rare occurrence. Chalk it up to any number of reasons why. But really, they’re all excuses that are the same in the end. It’s a poor demonstration. A bad joke.

The “Well, I didn’t know” doesn’t work. For the sake of argument though, did you think a show called Lubbock Legends really wasn’t worth the five bucks at the door?

When everything’s a mouse click–or a finger swipe away–how can you not know? When the crowd is dominated by forty and fifty-year-olds, you can’t blame technology.

Swinney and Parks are, pound for pound, song for song, two of the absolute best singer-songwriters this town has ever seen or helped produced. It’s without doubt they don’t have the same name recognition as some of their contemporaries or those who came decade(s) after and only share the same humble Lubbock roots. But, they’ve thrown away songs better than most.

Before the doors opened and beer bottles were being served, Swinney, Parks, and Adams sat down for an interview. Before that, Swinney and Adams exchanged a story about a long, forgotten song of Swinney’s that he hadn’t played in seven or eight years. The reason? Because Swinney thought it needed something else. It wasn’t finished. Nevertheless, Adams was enamored by the song he heard Swinney sing in Parks’ kitchen one night on whim seven years back. He’s been chasing it ever since. Parks walks in five minutes later and has a similar story about another song. They’re like fishing stories.

Maybe it’s just a loss in translation. Something just doesn’t make sense for the newest wave. Maybe, it’s something they’ll never understand in Swinney’s and Parks songs. Maybe, for that, they just don’t give a shit. Maybe, it’s that the mirror they look back in only sees as far back as 2005. But even then, that’d be the year Swinney released his last album, Big Shots. Parks’ Tillers was just released four short years ago.

It’s difficult to admit how quickly time slips by. I’ve never believed in the notion of waves passing in the Lubbock scene. I always believed it was just one giant wave. But there’s something to it. Every four years or so, a new class of wannabe poets and hopeful drifters pick up pens, paper, and pawn shop guitars. And every four years, there’s a new class of ignorance. Sure, they’ll know the Abbotts, Greens, Bowens, and Buddy Hollys (Sadly, I can’t even say with confidence everyone knows The Flatlanders bunch and Terry Allen). But that’s only because they received some form of recognition that transcends the short wave. They realize they’re walking on sacred ground, but not the reasons why.

It’s no one’s fault they don’t. It takes an investment. It doesn’t happen overnight. It only becomes a problem when a class starts believing in their own bullshit without cause. Standing on the shoulders of giants when you didn’t realize you were.

By no means am I saying you shouldn’t pursue your craft with a vengeance. But maybe, just maybe, take some time recognize you’re petri dish is part of a much larger one that. Go reread Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (No, not the Mumford & Songs song). You’re not going to make it as the next big thing just because you put Lubbock on your mailing address. It doesn’t work that way.

Hard work isn’t the only reason for success. It’s, in part, because of legacy and paths and trails already blazed. Maybe give a little acknowledgement and thanks when you can. Listen and watch when you’re there. God knows you’ll be bitching about weekend crowd and kids these days when you’re down the line, if you end up down the line.

Still, I get it. Life gets in the way. Nights off can be a rare occurrence. But, why the lack of give a damn here and only now?

In saying all of that, we too must do a better job. Less assuming. More digging and explaining—to the best of our knowledge. By no means do I consider myself an expert on Lubbock, Panhandle, and Texas music. But, we’ll try.

They deserve better.



Homework assignments:

Listen, find, and buy Cary Swinney’s Human Masquerade, Martha, and Big Shots.
Listen, find, and buy Wade Parks Tillers.

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.

Burning Photographs: Hock the Horses

Photo Mar 29, 1 39 16 AMby: Thomas D. Mooney

It’s 10:16 p.m.

The Lubbock winds are blowing just strong enough gusts that the stockyards north of town are making their presence known. There’s a small group huddled together on the front patio of The Blue Light puffing on cigarettes and trading jokes for laughs and smiles. They’re blowing off the steam of the day and taking the edge off with gulps of Lone Star and long drags.

A handful on the side are one upping each other on just how their day was really the worser of the two. It’s a war of attrition and vape clouds.

The bar inside is filled with songwriters and sitting and swiveling around on the round, rotating seats that for a rim around the slightly elevated space. The step, it’s snuck up on many throughout its’ time. Tonight, it’s taking a night off on embarrassing the locals.

There’s welcoming handshakes that come in rounds by usuals. Nervous introductions and plenty of “I’m unsure if you remember me, but maybe if I make eye contact, you’ll acknowledge our previous meet-ups” stares and waves.

The sign-up sheet near the stage is slowly filling up with signatures of first timers and the usual. Blue Light Songwriter Night Host, Jerry Serrano walks up on stage, grabs his acoustic and slings it over his shoulder. He strums a few times while simultaneously checking the vocal microphone. Both gradually raise in volume and he welcomes everyone.

There’s chatter in the corners of the room as he begins playing. The warmth in his voice slowly deafen the scattered laughter and babble.

He’s been on the job as host ever since former host, Benton Leachman, surrendered his duties around the first of the year.

Serrano, he’s still figuring his way around the night–which is more than playing five songs off the top and calling people to the stage to play their songs. In many respects, it’s being the unofficial voice of the prototypical  Lubbock Songwriter. A voice of reason for those who become too full of themselves and an encouraging pat on the back when you’re in the midst of something special.

At this point, Serrano has a mental chalkboard with a plethora of ideas scratched up there on how he’s going to take the night and make it better. What’s that new wrinkle he’s going to have to bring in more. It’s somewhere jotted on that chalkboard. Now, it’s just finding it.

Charlie Stout’s name is the first one jotted down to follow Serrano’s intimate set of songs that’ll be making their way on to Serrano’s upcoming solo album.

Stout goes into “Rattlesnake–The Last Rattlesnake in West Texas.” It’s a new song he’s been working on. It’s clear he’s still chipping away on it. It’s a hell of a lot better and refined than last week’s version.

He’s played it to himself repeatedly since then. It’s now filled with a working second verse. There’s a bite to the harsh down strums. There’s kick in his heavy stomp.

It’s not finished. But he’ll play it again next week. It’ll be closer to competition, but still, maybe not finished. He’ll repeat the process until he has something of worth. He’s unafraid of letting Monday Night crowds be a part of the growth of a song.

It’s something others could take a stab at. It’s worth mentioning Stout isn’t playing just half-written songs though. He’s sharing “I See Stars” or “Feels Like Home” with untitled pieces. It’s something a few others end up doing as well–albeit, their “this is a new song” is either a trailing whisper or comes off as more of an excuse in case it’s a bomb.

Tonight’s filled with more songwriters than time. Jeff Dennis, Jim Dixon, Zoe Carter, Phlip Coggins, Cleto Cordero, Derek Bohl–folks who’ve been coming their share of Mondays are all in house. All have scribbled their names down.

There’s something to that. You’re never too big to not show up for Songwriter Nights. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your peers. Hell, you owe it to Lubbock and Blue Light. Putting in work is part of the job–no matter if you’ve released your share of albums, you’re charting on some Texas Radio listing, or think you’re above open mic nights in a college town in late March.

Tonight, there are folks who have driven in from Midland and other towns. It’s all their first time playing at Blue Light. The young, unknown talent in the room is much like the young, unknown talent in most songwriter nights. It’s coarse and raw. But here and there, there’s something to it. There’s a line that you buy into. A chorus of worth more than the eruption of applause it gets at the songs’ end.

Stout, Dixon, Dennis, Serrano, and Carter are sitting at a row of round tables in front of the sound booth. They’re watching and listening. Every once in a while, one gets up and goes to the bar or bathroom and another Monday vet replaces them.

“I hope they don’t think we’re here to judge them,” whispers Stout.

“Yeah, but isn’t that what you’re doing?” I reply. It is–and that’s not a bad thing either.

A couple dark horses emerge out of the pack.

Dixon is jumping on stage after Carter. She’s just played three songs on electric guitar. It’s the one and only plugged-in moment of the night.

“I hope I didn’t break any unspoken rules about playing an electric on Songwriter Night,” she says as she’s leaving. Of course not. This isn’t baseball.

Dixon gives an impromptu prelude to one of his songs. It’s about frustration of a talking crowd and goes something to the effect of “shut the fuuuuuuck up, shut the fuuuuuuck up, shutthefuckup!”

Those listening, it gets a chuckle out of. Those who aren’t, it goes over their head and some just think it’s a part of the song.

“A songwriter learns so much out of playing Songwriter Nights at Blue Light and Cheatham Street,” says Stout. “Here, you learn how to play a crowd who isn’t listening. There, you learn how to play a crowd who is. After a few dozen shows at both, you’re ready for about just everything and anything.”

Cordero has been pacing the place since he arrived a few hours back. Up in the sound booth. Over in the corner. Side stage. Outside for a breather.

The Flatland Cavalry leader has a record release in four days on the very stage. It’d be understandable if he was just in for a beer and to staple some posters around the joint.

He starts off with a new tune he’s working on. Carving away he goes.

It’s 1:33 a.m.

It smells like a light rain that’ll cover town by morning. The grey haze of low hanging clouds cover the dark night sky and hidden moon. Street lights give a soft glow rather than their usual piercing glare.