The old adage goes that songwriters have their whole lives to write and prepare their debut album and only six months to create the follow-up. In Texas Music, we have had our fair share of formidable debut records such as Jason Boland and the Stragglers-Pearl Snaps or Dub Miller’s American Troubadour.
Each of these amazing debuts ratcheted up hopes for the future songs. Usually, the sophomore releases equaled or eclipsed that first album. But, eventually all of our favorite artists reach a plateau of sameness. In this or any genre. Look at the way Guns N’ Roses crumbled or AC/DC never recreated the career madness of Back in Black. Artists often either try to reinvent the wheel or they go back to the same well so many times it becomes drier than your skin in a west Texas dust storm.
That’s the good and bad thing about high expectations. They set a bar that makes people work harder, but they also make certain goals unattainable. This pattern plays itself out in life, sport, art and beyond. There’s a reason few athletes match their career year the following year. Or a salesman hits his highest numbers year after year. A particularly apt analogy comes from Hollywood. There’s a reason that sequels (“Godfather 2” aside) rarely equal or eclipse the original film. “The Hangover” was funny the first time, unsettling the second time and just plain sad by round three. The well had run dry.
In the case of music, it is rare that a band puts out a classic album after a classic album. Sometimes, throughout a band’s career they may release two to three classic albums…but they are surrounded by duds. Often, it is the band’s earliest records that are looked on the kindest by fans and critics.
We usually term it “before they sold out”…or “before they let the fame get to them”…or “before they got out of touch…”before they burned out”…”before the lead singer went solo” and so on.
Has Kevin Fowler made a stronger record top to bottom than Beer, Bait and Ammo? Will Randy Rogers Band ever eclipse Rollercoaster? Despite the Oscar, Ryan Bingham will always be best remembered around these parts for Mescalito. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Love the music for what it is. Respect it for what it means to you and others. Bask in the knowlege that the live show is still going to be entertaining. But, please don’t be surprised when a new album doesn’t measure up to old triumphs. It’s just the pattern.
This trend was recently proven by Randy Rogers Band. Trouble is not a bad album. In fact, it’s on the borderline of good. But, classic or their best it is not. Yet, here we are weeks after its release hearing slams of sellout and commercial. I must’ve missed the part where country radio is playing songs about cheating, heartbreak and hangovers. I think that went out of commercial fashion in 1993. On the flip side, we have Greenfest 2013 artist William Clark Green who has hit an absolute home run with his third album Rose Queen. The record is varied, fresh and authentic. It has hooky, radio friendly songs like the breakout “She Like the Beatles” and honky-tonk rock stompers like “Dead or In Jail”. The trick is waiting to see what he does on album five or album six. If he’s still producing records as solid as RRB’s Trouble 15 years into his career, then it will be a true success.
Other artists shift gears after a few albums. Changing producers, incorporating new styles or jumping genres to keep things fresh. Robert Earl Keen and Willie Nelson are among the artists that have set the blueprint for this. They enjoy adding fresh spins on their styles to keep the music alive. If Keen was trying to rewrite “Corpus Christi Bay” every album, he’d be in trouble. It’s okay to level out. Fans will always return the classic albums and remember the good times of a particular band…all while being excited to share their latest and newest musical discovery.
-The vibrato craze has gotten out of control. I hear it on almost every other song. Few do it well. Let’s leave it to those few. The rest of you sound like those viral video goats.
-Have you got your Greenfest tickets yet? They’re flying off the proverbial shelves!
-When you hate both teams in the NBA Finals, you pretend the season is already over. MFFL.
-We are entering the triple digit heat season…that just means the Rangers will enter triple digit victories this year, right?
-Fortunately for my wallet, despite going to both, my kids are young enough to not realize the Dell Diamond isn’t the Ballpark In Arlington.
-It’s going to be another crazy, busy summer. Listen and look for me and the other GW guys on a radio dial or publication near you soon. We’re going into full Greenfest promotion mode starting Monday. You’re coming with us, right?
–This month’s album recommendation is: Mando Saenz-Studebaker. Mando’s been a GW favorite since his Watertown debut. He’s best known for being Stoney LaRue’s favorite co-writer. But, Mando has a breathtaking, warbling singing voice that gives his south Texas rooted songs some serious emotional punch. Check out his latest if you dig thoughtful country music.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain