Red Shahan released a fantastic new record this week. It’s his second straight home run. Despite his growing notoriety, he still remains an enigma and that has definitely helped spur his buzz. In this modern age of sharing every details of our lives online and then having those details sold to the highest bidders, it’s unusual and refreshing for an artist to hold some mystique. The most interesting part of Shahan is that it’s almost unconscious. He’s just living.
On the flip side, there are artists such as Kacey Musgraves who also delivered a fantastic new record all but prodded into public consciousness via social media. Kacey is a smart singer/songwriter who has also developed a knack for knowing what buttons to push to keep her career moving forward as country radio/industry remains landlocked in the 90’s. (see also Miranda Lambert et al). Musgraves shares everything with no filter or bs. Whether it’s a novelty karaoke microphone, a sparkly dress or a song she just wrote, she puts it out there. This open honesty has connected her to fans worldwide because it fits her music.
The lesson here, for artists, is to be yourself.
Be true to who you are. Fans are craving authentic interactions. Red Shahan is the cosmic, caustic Texan songwriter who writes weirdly evocative songs about desolation and intimacy with equal insight. Kacey Musgraves mines the melancholy of life in all forms: love, loss, hypocrisy, culture and relationships. In turn she delivers it in these striking tones of originality and creativity. Saying the familiar in a fresh way.
I fell into a wormhole on my “Old Skool Country” Spotify playlist recently and listened to nothing but Rodney Crowell and KT Oslin nonstop for nearly 72 hours. KT Oslin was the Kacey Musgraves of her era…but in a different way. She didn’t fit the mold by any stretch. She was a mid 40’s female with the resume of an out of work actor off Broadway. But, Harold Shedd (producer of Alabama) heard a few of her tunes and knew that it was just different enough to be huge. He was right. Oslin wrote about her life. Not a fantasy life, but her own. Jilted wife, nostalgic midlife, successful businesswoman. Her viewpoint resonated because despite the attitude found in some of her work, she was being true to herself and in turn true to millions of others. Musgraves has found that ground. Taking a kernel of truth and expanding on it until everyone knows what she’s about.
The difference is, we all saw what Kacey Musgraves looked like long before we heard a note. Image is everything and it precedes the music. Be it self promotional posts on IG or Twitter or some press blitz created by a team or label. Whereas, back in the day I distinctly remember seeing my father seeing KT Oslin on TV at one of the bazillion country awards shows. I believe she was doing “Hey Bobby” (upon further review I think it was THIS performance from Farm Aid) and him remarking “That’s not what I thought she looked like.” Not in a bad way. But, he and millions of others had created this image in their heads. Yet, once you saw her the persona fit the music. It all made sense.
The same can be said for when you first see Red Shahan. He’s not selfie posting on IG. His Twitter feed is a maze of humorous and mysterious non-sequiturs and bon mots. There aren’t a ton of sleek professional videos on YouTube. He’s a throwback. To take him in, means to see him live. And when you see the stout redhead stride to the microphone, guitar slung unruly, eyes closed and letting out one of his signature vocal runs, you have that same realization my father did all those years ago about KT Oslin. “Oh yes, this all makes sense now.” Part cowboy, part poet, part guitar slinger. The songs become even more visceral. Coyotes, oil fields, closed emotions inside open spaces. Shahan delivers it all and makes you relisten to the records with a renewed sense of enlightenment.
Sometimes it’s good to not know where the artist is coming from, who they are, what they look like or what their story is. But, that’s rare. Oftentimes, it only enhances the songs. Does knowing Townes Van Zandt was an alcoholic drug addict make “Waiting Around To Die” even more poignant and haunting? You bet it does. Enhancements for the sake of the song. Most people just listen to the song and are done with it. They take it in like they’re taking a drink of water while not that thirsty. We’re not most people. We take it in as if we haven’t had a drink in days. We find it sacred. We are curious. We want to know more. Where. Why. How. Who. The inspiration. The reason.
Red Shahan and Kacey Musgraves (and countless others) give us the answers to those questions and the answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. That’s what great music does. Reassures you. Inspires you. Motivates you. Makes you think. Makes you feel. Don’t ever stop thinking or feeling the music.
-I’ve been in the lottery for the Masters for several years, never made it. This week some guys I know made it. One day I will. I’ve been able to cross off most of my sports bucket list. Wrigley is falling this summer. That just leaves Augusta and the Rose Bowl as the two largest remaining. I’ll get there.
-Speaking of baseball season, just as I thought, the Rangers look terrible and the Astros look unbeatable. H-town friends, y’all are going to be good for a long while.
-It’s LJT month. Shenanigans await.
-When you look up at the sky this weekend, just know that Parker McCollum is up there on Larry Hooper’s jet.
-River Jam details will be out very soon! It’s like waiting in a room for a surprise birthday party guest of honor to arrive.
-I love the spring. I hate her allergies.
-Topo and Tito’s. Trust me.
-This month’s recommended album: in addition to the Red and Kacey albums, I recommend taking a trip through the Pat Green tribute album Dancehall Dreamin’. The biggest standout to me was John Baumann on “Nightmare”. But, I also dug what Jack Ingram did with “Wave on Wave” and Cory Morrow with “Adios Days”. Up next for a tribute album should be Rusty Wier. I’ll continue to beat that drum.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain