This month’s ramble was inspired by this message board post I saw some months back:
“Texas country is just as bad, its the same thing as the labels put out to the teenies with boy bands and girly pop. What is happening is that awesome parties, nights at the bar, or having a great time at concerts are distorting your view of the music being played. I understand. It’s Pavlov’s theory of conditioning. You are equating a drunken good time in the company of loose half dressed girls with good music, and that’s not the case. If I play that music in a stuffy room with no beer or women present it would sound terrible. If I play Mozart or Beethoven and add the kegger with the sorority sistas you are going to love that. You have conditioned yourself to palette white dog crap.”
I don’t know who posted that, but someone sent it to me and despite the brashness, it resonated with me.
This harsh, but steeped in reality, internet posting is indicative of the sentiment many have about modern Texas Music. The constant struggle of is it good period? Or, do we think it’s good because it is from here? To take it one step further, some artists know how to command a room with just a guitar and stories. Others rock a stage with backing musicians thumping the bandstand in a rocking way that entertains every person in the hall. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. It matters where their heart, soul and story come from. As long as those three things come from desire, passion and truth then the music cannot be denied.
This past weekend I was able to see one of my longtime favorites, Josh Grider, perform at West Fest. I’ve seen Josh play at least 50 times over the years in settings as varied as Miley Cyrus’ morals. He exemplifies the ability that the best acts in our scene do to transcend setting and capture whatever moment is out there to be attained. On this night, it was a rowdy crowd of thousands of beer-soaked, polka-crazed revelers at a Czech heritage festival. The set list was adjusted accordingly and the backing band (which included the extraordinary Adam Odor) brought an infectious energy and spirit to the stage that matched that of the crowd. One month ago, I witnessed Grider close out Greenfest15 with Drew Kennedy in their customary late Sunday spot at Lone Star Floathouse in front of 100 true music fans hanging on every word in a quasi-listening room environment. Grider nailed both settings. Because his music has heart, soul and truth.
He is not alone. Randy and Wade are as adept at this as anyone. The HMBWT phenomenon began as a way for them to connect to their songwriter roots as the smoke and lights got thicker and hotter on the big stages of the scene. William Clark Green, Zane Williams, Walt Wilkins, Ryan Bingham, Stoney LaRue, Sean McConnell, Josh Weathers, Cody Canada, Jason Boland, Jamie Wilson and many others are great at this double threat too.
It’s certainly easier to be good at playing solo and then transition to a band if you have the goods. Impostors, posers and fakes are revealed when it works the other way. When you go to one of the big charity shows or events (shoutout to Justin Frazell’s Pickin’ For Preemies–$341K raised this year!! HOLLA!) where there is a large song swap session, it’s not hard to spot the guys that aren’t comfortable performing like that. This little indicator isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s fairly close. Find a guy or gal who isn’t quite up to snuff with just 6 strings and the truth and you’ll often find an artist who: isn’t in it for the right reasons, isn’t sure of who they are, and struggles to connect with the audience in a meaningful way.
There’s a reason George Strait’s fictional Dusty wanted to get back to the simplistic and away from those aforementioned smoke and lights. Country music in general, and Americana/Texas/Red Dirt in particular is about the craft. It’s not about the party. If the party falls in line, that’s great. But at the end of the day this music scene requires honesty. Cheers to those who ably provide it. And if you’re not one of those artists able to pull that off yet, good luck. We all hope you get there. Don’t hide behind the facade. Expose yourself. Josh Abbott recently took a huge step forward with regard to this. His latest record is a testament to growth and baring your soul. He should be commended. It’s a great record because it has great songs. The songs are great because they mean something. They aren’t solely party fluff. Heart, soul, and truth. In the end…it’s all that matters. And it’s definitely all that will be remembered.
-Over the years I’ve made numerous radio appearances. As a radio fan (Howard Stern, The Ticket, Russ Martin etc) it’s always a joy to try and bring some of those bits into a music commentary and setting. Squeezing in good segments between songs is hard, but I had a blast doing just that with Jennifer Allen the other night on ShooterFM and we will be doing it again. We received a ton of good feedback. It’s the start of what I teased a few months ago. A full-fledged talk show set-up that I have too many ideas for and not enough time.
-I’ve had a very rough few months, music has gotten me through. It’s a vital part of a good support system. Cling to it when you need it my friends.
-Chris Stapleton was nominated for a slew of CMA Awards. That’s a step in the right direction.
-Football season is finally back under way and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. The Cowboys seem to actually be on the verge of another successful season. And you folks down in Houston got to be featured on Hard Knocks. High school games are blasting off left and right (shameful hits on refs aside), the college game has never been bigger. It’s one of the best times of year. Optimism abounds and passion runs wild. Best of luck to you and your teams. Crank it Glen!
-We still have over a year of presidential politics y’all. Buckle up.
-I’ve been writing for a few other projects lately. It’s been therapeutic. Stretching beyond your comfort zone from time to time is good for you.
–This month’s recommended album: Josh Abbott Band-Front Row Seat (out Nov 6). Related to the column above, we as fans dig it when the artists truly put a piece of themselves into the music. When he or she is willing to expose their flaws alongside the good things. Josh Abbott has been fairly ripped by me and others in the past for producing what he even acknowledges as simplistic party songs. But, to his credit he realized that if his band didn’t grow beyond that they would be forever pigeonholed and at some point the market would grow up and away from him. Smart move. This latest collection keeps the catchiness but adds authenticity and grit. Two elements that were previously missing in much of Abbott’s work. It’s very cool to see an artist evolve the right way, and even better when it’s one of the current headliners of this scene. JAB pushes the needle in the right (and much needed) direction with Front Row Seat. If you’ve dismissed JAB in the past as a silly party band, give this one a shot. If you’re a longtime fan worried that this new music may be a little too real and dark, give this one a shot. Both crowds should dig it. I did.
–This month’s recommended album 2: Damn Quails- Out of the Birdcage. These guys had to wait around untangling some legal entanglements, but the wait was worth it. This collection is solid from start to finish and picks up where these folksy Red Dirt purveyors left off. “Man in the Mirror” may be my favorite tune of this bunch, but there’s not a bad one to be found. Another example of a live show sound matching up with the record in a completely cool way. We should all be glad these quails have escaped.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain