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{Review} Drew Kennedy – At Home in the Big Lonesome

Songwriting is a wide and varied art form that takes on many different personalities depending upon the writer and the subject matter.  Drew Kennedy is one of the best songwriters on the planet and has been for some time.  He’s good because he’s honest, even when making the story up about something from the ether of his imagination, a high school anecdote or a gig routing trip through the vastness of west Texas. He writes what he knows and he knows more than most.  Kennedy is an intelligent, observant philosopher on the human condition.  He’s able to consider the many angles and trails that lead us down the paths we travel each day.  Even when he writes about things he has no clue about, he makes you believe it…and that’s the beauty.  You fall into the wondrous rush of his words and melodies until you yourself end up in that desolate, descriptive place Kennedy has created.  It’s transcendent work on the level of Clark, Van Zandt and Keen.

Over the course of his career, the Pennsylvanian turned Texan has grown with each album.  A constant creative visionary in a land of guys trying to sound like someone else.  Kennedy has embraced his off-kilter singing voice and knack for storytelling to create a canon of work as good as any hero you can name.  When it came time to record this latest project, At Home in the Big Lonesome, Kennedy sought to make the type of record he himself would enjoy listening to in the car as opposed to catering to radio, expectations or trying to fit songs into a vacuum.  He went where his ears, brain and soul took him and brought producer Dave Brainard along for the adventure. The results are spectacular Americana-folk-country-pop jaunts through space, time and existence.  This is thinking person’s music. As Kennedy himself said,  “If you’re looking for songs about a bonfire party in a field or hell-raising anthems to crack a Natty Light to, well, you’ll be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve done all of those things. I’m just not doing them now.”  What he is doing now is making fantastic American music.

The Sean McConnell co-write “24 Hours in New York City” was a late addition to the project and we should all be thankful it made the cut as it is a monster song.  The story of young lovers traversing the Big Apple on borrowed time and credit is a splendid, nostalgic snapshot of youth. “House” flips the script on making a house into a home in a heartbreakingly honest way.  “Cream and Sugar”, long a live favorite has found its home here as a Bruce Hornsby simmer, behind closed doors reality.  “Open Road” is the type of easygoing foot on pedal, hand on wheel, windows down anthem we don’t hear enough of.  It encapsulates the version of freedom we enjoy that showcases good tunes on the radio and a blur of landscapes beside you.

Rather than give a full track by track breakdown, I’ll just say that this is Kennedy’s finest work and that is truly saying something.  Much like the Turnpike Troubadours who also recently released their best effort, it’s encouraging to see artists continuing to evolve, grow and get better with age instead of resting on laurels.  Kennedy is a strong, confident writer and performer that has cobbled together the type of life experiences and wisdom to match his artistic appetite and leave us all satisfied.

On Top of the Red Dirt Mountain (By Era)

Ric Flair famously proclaimed “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.”  A farcical taunt in the world of pro wrestling about who was the biggest, baddest and best at any given time.  Someone who puts butts in seats and causes a reaction.  Last week on Twitter, in the build-up to the release of Turnpike Troubadours’ new album, we made mention of how they’re the biggest band in the scene at the moment.  A torrent of replies, DMs, texts and messages followed.  Many of the affirmative “hell yeah!” variety.  A few of the, “they’ve never been the biggest band in the scene!” variety.  And, so we were asked who we would grant that title to at various time periods.  We gave our response there in brief, tweet form, and below follows an extended look at that study. Rankings of music are stupid and subjective…but fun.  So, here we go (no pun intended).

The most recent boom of Texas/Red Dirt Music can be set at approximately 1998.  Prior to that the regional scene was a hodgepodge of Outlaw clingers, coffee shop folk singers and feisty garage bands.  Robert Earl Keen, The Great Divide and Jack Ingram provided a bridge to a new era.  And starting in 1999, things exploded.  Venues opened, online outlets sprung up, bands formed, songs were written, radio stations changed formats, festivals were created, booking agencies began etc.  This boom can be traced to the success of one man, Patrick Craven Green.

Criteria for being the biggest band in the scene is fluid…but generally involves buzz, radio/streams/sales, gate receipts/draw, social media reactions and the *scientific gut.

*not scientific at all

 

1998-2003:  Pat Green

Charismatic, loud, unrefined.  Pat Green took elements of the Americana singer-songwriter and paired them with a Garth Brooks level-intensity live show.  Name dropping Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Walt Wilkins gave him cred, but his ability to market himself online at the dawn of the information age pushed him over the top.  It didn’t hurt that he had a distinctive singing voice and the guidance of Greg Henry behind the scenes. Word of mouth joined with online phenomenon to make Pat Green the hottest ticket in the region.  He sold thousands of cd’s without major distribution or a label.  Then, despite him having given up on them a long time ago, Nashville came calling and Green waved his way to Grammy nominations and nationwide appeal.

2003-2005:  Cross Canadian Ragweed

Busting out of the Stillwater scene of the late 90’s, this Cody Canada-led outfit made Red Dirt synonymous with Texas and turned southern rock on its ear by adding heavy doses of alternative influences and songwriting prowess. Their live shows became a true event and pandemonium ensued.  Songs about county fair workers rolled out alongside blistering covers, odes to marijuana and tender ballads.  Canada and company never stayed in one lane too long and the crowd followed them to the end.  They were Texas and Oklahoma rock stars…and are still.

2005-2010: Randy Rogers Band

After a cheap live cd and a steel-guitar, Steve Earle combo of a debut studio album, Randy Rogers reshuffled his band and came up aces with the addition of Brady Black on fiddle. Ever the smart marketer, Rogers hustled Radney Foster to sit in the producer chair both to give his music Foster’s touch and his band Foster’s clout. The recipe was deliciously successful.  The album Rollercoaster was a landmark moment in this scene.  Smart songs full of energy, piss, vinegar, vitriol, heartbreak and enough hell-raising verve to make rockers dig in. The major labels came calling and the RRB became a machine.  They have consistently been road warriors and studio studs and have yet to put out a bad album. They remain in the top echelon of touring bands in the country, 12 years after the ride blasted off.

2010-2012: Josh Abbott Band

Josh Abbott set out to copy Randy Rogers’ formula, but be more commercial.  JAB smartly focused more on marketing than the songs at the outset, writing songs for a very specific demo (college aged females).  It was the Bret Michaels/Nikki Sixx aesthetic of draw the females to the gig and the guys will follow…before you know it, everyone’s there.  Everyone showed up for the simplistic, good-time nature of songs like “She’s Like Texas” and “All of a Sudden”.  It wasn’t deep, but it was good.  Since first rising to the top of the mountain, Abbott and his band have striven to make more complex music with more imaginative lyrics and have found success.  Despite the uptick in thought, the numbers haven’t dipped.

2012-2015: Turnpike Troubadours

The Diamonds and Gasoline album made a statement that this band from Oklahoma was different.  Catchy melodies with deceptively heavy subject matter that all came in a twangy yet accessible package.  Evan Felker’s lyrics spoke to everyone and these guys jumped from an Econoline to a Prevost at record speed. When they dropped Goodbye Normal Street in 2012, they took their rightful place atop the throne and proclaimed to everyone that they were going to be a legacy act.  The type your grandchildren will know about.

2015-mid-2017: Cody Johnson

Being a singing cowboy has always been profitable and popular, when done right.  And nobody has done it more right in recent memory than the guy the kids refer to as CoJo.  I once referred to him as Chris LeDoux 2.0 and some scoffed.  Nobody is scoffing anymore.  Johnson has continued to sell records and tickets and at a substantial rate; including a headline appearance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

mid-2017- ?: Turnpike Troubadours 


A Long Way From Your Heart is their finest recorded moment and has vaulted them back ahead of Cody Johnson in the consciousness of the scene at large.
Many artists have had super solid years such as Cory Morrow in 2001 or Kevin Fowler and Aaron Watson at various times, 2016 William Clark Green, 2002-2006 Jason Boland & The Stragglers, 2003-2008 Stoney LaRue, Ryan Bingham won a freaking Oscar…and so on.  Who is the next band to rise up to this list?  Cody Jinks? Koe Wetzel? Only time will tell.

Until then, we can all debate, listen and jam.  Drop your picks in the comments.  This will be an upcoming discussion on The Co-Write as well.

{Review} Turnpike Troubadours – A Long Way From Your Heart

For nearly a decade, the Turnpike Troubadours have been standard bearers for the ragtag, raw, honest, genuine type of country music favored by folks in this region. The band, fueled by the Walt Whitman and Larry McMurtry infused lyrics of frontman Evan Felker, has always stood apart from peers and imitators because they are so damn good…and so damn real. … Read the rest

{Brad's Corner} October 2017 – No Answer

{Brad�s Corner}

Over the years, I’ve prided myself on always having an answer when asked a variation of the following question.

“Who should I be listening to?” “Who’s the next big thing?” “Who’s about to blow up?”

This past Sunday at our big Texas Music Flood Waco event, I had no new names when this question was posed to me. … Read the rest

Those Damn Quails Are Back

by:  Cody Starr

It’s a Saturday afternoon in early September, sound check time at Whiskey Girl Saloon in good ‘ole Cowtown. I enter the back door to an empty bar, save a handful of small tables, chairs, and a serviceable dance floor in front of the stage.… Read the rest