Red Shahan’s new album, Culberson County (7013 Records/Thirty Tigers), was produced by Elijah Ford, and backed by driving rhythm section Matthew “Paw Paw” Smith (Ryan Bingham) and Parker Morrow, with Daniel Sproul on lead guitar. Texas Americana cohorts Charlie Shafter and Bonnie Bishop contributed vocal tracks too, along with Kim Smith. The album covers a lot of ground between country and rock ‘n roll, which makes it no wonder Shahan had Robert Plant come up and shake his hand after his performance at the Americana Music Festival two years back.
Shahan tells stories set in the varied imagery of his native Texas that display his comfort with a variety of musical styles while the songs immerse the listener in the flora and fauna of rural Texas. In classic country fashion, the songs tell the stories of the hard-luck folk who live there, the struggle to make ends meet, and the disappearance of rural America and the wildlands. But the rhythm section always takes it up a notch.
On the album’s lead track, “Waterbill,” a bluesy story-song starts off being about paying the water bill, but we find the protagonist sleeping in a broken down car in “mountain lion country.” “Enemy,” a more standard country song, warns the listener against the nonstandard dangers of camping in the pines of meth country. The title track, “Culberson County,” is an acoustic paean to the last cries of the coyotes as the highways cut through their land. “How They Lie,” also acoustic, takes up the story of a family forced to sell its land to the oil barons who rule much of the state. Shahan’s own mother, Kim Smith, sings backup on “Memphis,” which is well worth a listen, as Shahan credits his mama for supporting his musical youth. “Someone Someday” was co-written with Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere and is especially good. “Revolution” brings us all the way down to rock and roll bottom end of alt-country.
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