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{Review} Look at Stoney Fly

big_1411484809aviator260Stoney LaRue’s latest release, Aviator, comes just a mere three years after his Velvet.  That’s a record breaking pace for an artist who made fans wait near Guns N’ Roses lengths between albums after his Red Dirt Album release way back in 2005.  Stoney has always been unique.  A teddy bear wrapped in biker gear. His early efforts were jam bandy at times and full of a well-deserved bravado.  Stoney’s always been one of the most talented cats around vocally, and in those early days nobody owned a listening room quite like him.  For reference, find the legendary Sidecar Pub Galleywinter bootleg show with Bleu Edmondson from 2004.  His own tunes and voice were there right alongside Jim Croce and Neil Young. Through each incarnation Stoney has undergone since he’s grown more comfortable in his own skin.  He’s transitioned from mostly covering other folk’s songs to developing his own songwriting voice.  Most often that writing voice is bolstered by the pen of the fantastically underrated Mando Saenz.  Saenz gentle, wry nature seems to have brought out the truest and best in Stoney LaRue’s artistic soul.  They began their collaboration on Velvet and it has truly found the sweet spot with Aviator.  Every track, save for a Freddy Powers cover (“Natural High”) is a Saenz co-write.

The venerable Frank Liddell is at the production helm of Aviator alongside Michael McCarthy and a host of A players.  The album was recorded to tape and eschewed digital techniques that afford the record a warm vibe that makes it sound like vinyl even when streaming from a mobile device.  It’s a laid back, groovy record full of interesting production chances and all the right notes in all the right places.  To my ears it’s reminiscent of Merle Haggard’s 1980’s work in sound and attitude.  But, it’s not dated.  It’s most definitely of the now and the future.  This is an artist with a past that has found his future.  And it is his alone.  While other artists may sound like others, there is no mistaking that this is a Stoney LaRue album.  In this day and age that is no small feat.  LaRue has carved out his own path on the strength of his live shows and dedicated fans.  Now he can hang his hat on a signature sound.

The tunes on this record are mostly reflective.  This is a songwriter looking firmly in the mirror.  That young bravado we first witnessed a dozen years ago has developed into a well-honed wisdom.  “First One To Know”, “Spitfire” and the title track ride on the emotive waves that Stoney triggers in his voice.  His voice has always been his greatest asset and he has learned (with Liddell and McCarthy’s help) to use it to the greatest effect.  It’s refreshing to hear a veteran performer grow into a more comfortable version of himself.  The talent that has always been there is now adjoined with LaRue’s comfort in his own skin.  He’s not pretending to be an idiosyncratic outlaw type anymore.  He’s just Stoney LaRue.  There’s a vulnerability and human quality that was missing in the early work that he now proudly displays alongside his cockiness.  He’s happy with it and whether the world acknowledges it or not, these songs seem to indicate he doesn’t care.  And for that, we acknowledge an artist that has made a truly special artistic leap to land right where he’s been aiming all along.

{Review} Wade Bowen Lets Go

SelfTitledWhen I wrote this cover story feature piece for Lone Star Music magazine five years ago, Wade Bowen was in a period of self-induced creative transition. Switching his band up, expanding songwriting partners, bringing in new producers, booking agents and management.  That gamble certainly paid off.  Now as 2014 is coming to a close, Bowen is yet again pushing himself forward.  However, this time it’s by going backward somewhat.

What I mean by that is Bowen’s latest record is free of the pressure of having to make it.  He’s made it.  On his own, gambled terms.  With this new record, Bowen is free to gamble in a new way: by listening to his heart completely. Following the muse of your soul isn’t always easy when you have a band, crew and family of dozens relying on you.  Free from the confines of fitting into any preconceived boxes or external pressures, Bowen delivers his finest collection of songs.

Bowen’s always had a wide creative palatte fostered by a varied. personal music fandom.  Yet, the stuff he laid down in the studio always maintained a heavy, serious overtone that belied the more lighthearted facets of his personality.  This new incarnation features a healthier balance of “Walking Along the Fenceline” alongside “Drinka the vodka!”

All of these career adjustments and freedoms allowed Bowen to make a well-rounded record that accentuates all his best qualities, but with a newfound experimental side. The country aesthetic is woven into each song via Bowen’s voice, but the instrumentation and production is a sonic soundscape of varied textures, vibes, styles and sounds.  Originals mix with co-writes (Will Hoge, Sean McConnell, Randy Rogers).

One of the coolest tracks is a cover of “Honky Tonk Road” that features Rogers, McConnell and Cody Canada joining Bowen.  This tune first gained notoriety after it was covered by Walt Wilkins and his Mystiquero bretheren.  Bowen and company take the song in a new, yet equally powerful direction. Lead single, “When I Woke Up Today” is an upbeat, radio-friendly tale that does a fantastic job of embodying the theme of the entire collection.  The free-wheeling attitude of this collection doesn’t negate the emotional power of songs such as “West Texas Rain” and “Hungover” (two of the strongest songs Bowen has ever recorded).

Wade-Bowen-Hat-Photo

The most striking thing about the self-titled Wade Bowen album is that it feels as if listeners are finally getting a peek at the real Wade Bowen.  He’s given us pieces for 15 years, but on this effort he’s pulling no punches, showcasing all the skeletons, and welcoming judgement on a scale that most vulnerable artists and songwriters don’t welcome.  Bowen has let go of any ties that bind him and laid it all out there for the world to see.  Happy, reflective, amusing and somber.  All the aspects of his personality are on display.  It’s so rewarding, as a fan, to hear this much honesty in a record.  It comes out Tuesday October 28th and I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done.  It’s easily in my top 3 favorites of 2014 and I hope you’ll dig into it as much as I have.

 

{Review} Loco Gringo’s Lament Turns 20

by: Damon Rodgers

rwhIt seems 20th anniversaries of albums are everywhere now.   Off the top of my head, I know that Shelby Lynne, Wilco, and Todd Snider are all celebrating twenty years of something.   Of course, some of that is because of the resurgence of vinyl, which makes it a win/win for both the artist and the consumer.  I was curious about one of the albums I consider to be in the top ten of best albums ever written, and lo and behold, it was put out in 1994 – making this year the 20th anniversary.

Ray Wylie Hubbard is a great songwriter.  Undisputed.  Most known for songs like “Snake Farm”, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”, and “Screw You, We’re From Texas”.  He is also known for his live shows that combine wit, rock ‘n roll, blues, country and humor, often self-deprecating.

However, with the release of LOCO GRINGO’S LAMENT in 1994, he became much more than that.  He became one of the smartest men and one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard.  Each song holds up on its own, but as an album, each song bleeds into the next, culminating with the last three songs that show more than any other, the songwriting genius Ray Wylie really is.

Listen to it.  I dare you.  Listen to it and try not to feel, try not to think, try not to empathize.

Twelve songs – all linked thematically by despair, tragedy, hope, redemption and love.

“Dust of … Keep Reading

{Brad's Corner} October 2014: Dinosaur Cycle

{Brad�s Corner}

There’s just something about the Texas Music scene that defies logic.  It may be the staid and repetitive nature of the music the last few years or the extremely overcrowded market. Right or wrong, there is a pecking order based on who started first and not necessarily talent in many cases. Guys that have been doing it since the late 90’s, even if unoriginally and without reaching their full potential, are handed virtual lockdowns on venues and top notch musicians.  In essence, the scene is like a big high school; with several acts who should’ve graduated long ago still hanging out like Wooderson in the movie Dazed and Confused.  Texas music is like a big bubble that forces you to breathe improperly until you emancipate yourself from it.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. Our scene is a lot like the hair metal movement of the 80’s. It sprung out of a hardcore LA club and rock scene. It was vibrant and competitive. It was a spirited and friendly competitive environment in which the bands attempted to snag a record deal, the hottest girl in the club that night, or the best blow and/or smack from some top rate dealer. Sometimes all three in one night.

The market was flooded with wannabes, burnouts, has-beens, never-weres, talents, no talents etc. All trying to jump to the next rung.

Sound familiar?… Keep Reading

We’re All Gonna Miss Glen Campbell

As Glen Campbell enters the final stages of his fight with Alzheimer’s, his family has released his final recording.  A moving, poignant, emotional tune called “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  It’s a powerful piece of art on the same level as Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”.  When paired with Campbell’s fine 2009 cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” you get a sad, yet fitting self-made tribute to an artist that we will all miss.

 

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