As the great credibility scare of Texas Music enters it’s 8th or 9th year depending on who you ask, we’ve all adopted Sturgill, Isbell and the like as our own. While, they are most definitely not ours. We love them. But the’re not “Texas””Red Dirt” etc. The ambiguous moniker of “Americana” gets slapped on just about everything that doesn’t fit it in a tidy box…and applies here. Much like those artists have found an audience of music fans fleeing commercial radio, they’ve been welcomed and buoyed by a considerable chunk of the Texas Music crowd seeking some truth, authenticity, creativity and brilliance. Traits that don’t come around as often in our little corner of the music world anymore.
Sturgill is pushing boundaries both real and imagined (in his own mind) and creating stuff like we’ve never heard before. Isbell is writing songs on a level like few others ever have. Who or what do we have on the hometeam that can compete with that?
It’s a difficult question to answer due to the wide array of styles under our banner. There’s the Fowler/Creager area. The Watson/CoJo area. The Turnpike/Bingham area. The WCG/Koe area. The RRB/Wade area. The Pat/Cory area. The REK/Lyle area. The RWH/JJW area. The Weathers/McConnell area. Jinks/And so on. We have crammed so many styles and variations under one roof that at times it’s hard to remember what we stand for in the first place.
It boils down to the songs being relatable…no matter the style. We want stuff we can believe in. Stuff that takes us back to a moment, a person, a mindset. Turnpike reminds you of that one girl you met while floating the river. Fowler reminds you of that time your buddy got thrown out of the bar. WCG takes you back to that backroad where you ran from the cops. REK reminds you of procuring some underage booze. McConnell makes you think of that time you realized you were becoming an adult and the world was bigger than you thought.
They all make you think.
As with any type of art, there are innovators and duplicators. As the 2.0 version of this music scene enters college age, it finds itself without a base…without an identity. It’s a loosely banded together group of venues, booking agents, radio stations and artists that aren’t really sure why they’re still together.
Yet, it endures.
It’s rare for the same acts to stay at the top of any scene or genre. Music is so cyclical. George Strait is even finally off country radio…but it took 35 years. Trends come and go, but the real remain. Who will remain in our scene as we continue to evolve?
The quality of the music coming from the guys like Sturgill and Isbell is far superior to most of what qualifies as “our kind of music (OKOM)”. Steve Earle’s latest press tour was sort of sad and sort of deeply revealing. His comments about modern country music being “hip-hop for white folks afraid of black folks” were extremely accurate. And, much like him, many of us would just rather listen to Kendrick Lamar. Because Kendrick Lamar is real.
We seek genuineness in what we consume because as true fans of music, we deeply care about where it comes from, where the artist is coming from and what they are trying to convey. We are outliers. Most folks just want something they can hum along to and not think about. We consume on a different level. We want to know the songwriter, the producer, where it was recorded, where the artist was raised, who played on the record, if they’re going to play a gig we can attend soon etc. That’s not the norm. It’s our norm, but not for the culture at large. It’s a sad reality. But, real just the same.
The real stuff is still around us in this scene. It’s just not as common as it once was. You have to work harder to find it. Young acts like John Baumann, Austin Meade, Jackie Darlene, Kody West are producing their own real truth and putting it out for consumption. Many veteran acts are trying to hold their relevant ground by retreading familiar turf, using focus groups, chasing ghosts and losing their way. I’d much rather hear a veteran artist from this scene sing about being 40 or 50 than attempting to act like they’re still 21. Fun, hell-raising and life still happens at a more mature age. Look at the mid to late Hag catalog as proof. Some acts have embraced this and some are still trying to write and sing beer anthems in a lost, confused, sad way.
As we all sit back and watch (and listen) to this unfold, I’ll continue to keep the Isbell, Sturgill and Kendrick Lamar types in my playlists…because it’s real.
-As a performer, it doesn’t get much more real than the River Jam Saturday headliner, Josh Weathers. The most talented and gifted live act I know of. I hope you’re coming to see him lay it down full band.
-If you float the river at River Jam or some other time this summer, don’t be a loser and litter…clean up after yourself. And also…don’t be the guy with the big speaker blasting 3 Doors Down and Avenged Sevenfold while doing beer bong competitions. Not a good look…and the Comal County Sheriff’s Department isn’t a fan.
-With the conclusion of the NBA finals, we are in the slowest sports time of the year…and I love baseball. But, the recent release of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine means it’s truly football season, right?
-Headed to LA this week. Doing all the touristy stuff and more….shoot me your suggestions on Twitter and I’ll see if I can fit in the itinerary.
-Josh Grider will be there at the same time, and I’m gonna do my best to catch his show. It’s always a trip to see some of our local cats in different locales.
-The Ticket in Dallas continues to be the best radio talk station ever created. When I meet folks that listen to one of the other DFW stations, it makes me question their judgement. It’s akin to listening to Fla Ga Line when you have Flatland Cavalry cd in front of you.
-This month’s recommended album is: Clayton Landua – Native. You know him from his stint as the leader of 6 Market Blvd. He stepped away from full-time music to pursue other callings, but never gave up the reins completely. Here, he’s more in the “14 Miles From Home” mode than “Ready to Throw”, but at no point is it not intriguing. He’s saying interesting things in unique ways and this aesthetic is best summed up with the track “Vegetables”. And, he’ll be at River Jam–Sun July 30–Floathouse.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain