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{Review} Jason Boland & the Stragglers – Comal County Blue

Jason Boland and his band of Stragglers set the bar really high with their first two studio efforts, Pearl Snaps andTruckstop Diaries. Along with the blistering live shows that became their calling card, these strong collections of Lloyd Maines produced tunes were astutely labeled instant classics. The songwriting was some of the most authentic and…

personal that had been seen in the rejuvenated Texas scene. Then, a series of personal demons and personnel shake-ups changed the chemistry of the band and sound of the last couple records. Somewhere in the Middle was a bit of a creative disappointment, and the Pete Anderson produced follow-up didn’t live up to the hype and initial promise surrounding its sum of musical whiz parts.

However, Boland has come out of the darkness of a personal and professional hell with his most soul shatteringly personal album ever, Comal County Blue. Without delving into too many details he has dealt with some of the hardest hitting issues a man can face and come out of it stronger on the other side. He is living proof that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And, that jubilant thirst for life and victorious tone of finally listening to the angels on his shoulders more often than the devil is dripping from each song on this album. One trip through the track listing and you know exactly where the inspiration for this album came from. “Bottle By My Bed” is as gut-wrenchingly honest as Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby” was trite.

My life was as empty as the bottle by my bed
my friends turned into strangers and I was on a dead-end…

That honesty comes from having lived through each syllable of the song. Endless hangovers and forgotten friends will definitely lead to inspiration and Boland delivers the tune in a straightforward manner. The title track is the biggest triumph here. It is a musical autobiography of Boland’s past few years encapsulated in just a shade over three minutes. He describes his daily routine of beating around New Braunfels and heading up to Austin on backroads while the demons that controlled his life stay within arms reach each second of his journey. “God Is Mad at Me” contains Boland’s knack for including spiritual themes without being holier than thou, very much in the vein of Billy Joe Shaver.

I feel like God is mad at me
Because he thinks I worship you
When he looks down and wonders
At all the foolish things I do
At the edge of hell there’s a choice to make
To go around or through
I feel like God is mad at me
Because he thinks I worship you

The breathtaking and open nature of Boland’s candidness and frankness continues with tunes like “May Not Be Love”, “No Reason Being Late” and “Down Here on Earth”. Boland’s voice sounds as if it is as at peace as his soul. The musicianship fits the laidback nature of the vocals and provides ample cradling for the very fragile and personal lyrics. “Sons and Daughters of Dixie” and “Outlaw Band” should become live favorites for years to come as they include the rambling and rocking elements that many fans expect from a Straggler effort.

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