Oklahoman Jason Boland has rounded up his bunch of Stragglers for a ninth album of danceable, old-school country tunes combined with lyrics both traditional and introspective.
“I Don’t Deserve You” kicks off the album with a well-worn tale of finding love far better than what one might deserve. Sunny Sweeney provides gorgeous harmonies – backing vocals are a consistently good trait of this album, along with the slide, pedal steel and dobro provided by Geoff Queen. “Hard Times” is one of the two centerpieces of the album. Brother and sister must survive together after the death of their parents – “all alone except for the dog and awful dreams.” The gut-punch of the song comes with the revelation of sister Darlene’s age. But (spoiler alert), she’s the song’s hero in the end.
Other songs address topics often found on country-ish records. “Right Where I Began” substitutes booze and one-night stands for happiness – the narrator seems resigned to “find a wife for the night.” “Predestined” reminds us that problems don’t last – “Focus on that rock you’ve been a-kickin’/One day it’s gonna be a grain of sand.”
The climax of the album – “Grandfather’s Theme”, penned by Randy Crouch – is a Red Dirt-meets-prog-rock epic that calls into question the progress made across generations – “And we poisoned the Earth/And took her for all she was worth.” Heavy stuff, lightened only a bit by beautiful backing vocals from J. Meridian.
Co-produced by the band, along with David Percefull and Adam Odor, and recorded live-to-tape at yellow DOG Studios in Wimberley, Texas, the album feels musically tight yet comfortably lived-in, befitting a band (Grant Tracy on bass; drummer and background vocalist Brad Rice; Nick Worley on fiddle, mandolin, and harmonies; and Cody Angel on guitar and pedal steel) that’s spent the better part of two decades together. One final highlight – “Do You Remember When” – has Boland lamenting former dance halls and saloons where, “Shameless promotions may get the place full/So drunk girls can ride a mechanical bull.” Touring bands like the Stragglers will help pull attention back where it should be – the music.