A theme album is always an interesting notion for an artist to attempt. It’s even more interesting when the theme is how the transcontinental railroad changed the western United States. So, if you were considering a similar album, just know that James Hyland beat you to it with Western.
Hyland was one of the founding members of South Austin Jug Band and has worked on the album for seven years. After all that time, the album comes to fruition with 20 songs. Of the album, Hyland said, “I ultimately wrote a play about a musician driving through the night, switching between two satellite stations. On one, the DJ is hosting a western-novella-themed show, and on another the DJ is playing more modern Americana. This album is the music from that play.”
You definitely get the sense of the western novella part of the theme when you hear the stories unfold in some of the songs. The subject in “Texas Ranger” is described in such detail that you feel like you’re listening to an audiobook. The same can be said for “You’ve Come to the Right Place,” which is about a meeting in which someone makes his pitch to build the railroad.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment on this album is that despite the grand theme, there are still plenty of songs perfect for dancing. With the fiddle, pedal steel, and beat, “First Westbound Train” is seemingly made for dancing in a honky tonk. “I Was Never Lost” and “Dark and Weary World” are also great for slow dancing with whatever partner you can find.
Living in Nashville is a dream for a lot of aspiring artists despite what the reality may be for a lot of artists that live there. In “Nashville Song” Hyland paints a pretty good picture of what it’s like for artists in Nashville. The narrator in the song talks about how he can’t afford to pay the rent so he needs to write a Nashville song. The critique of the songwriting formula is pretty biting – and pretty essential for anyone who questions the Nashville scene.
The triumph of this album is that Hyland shows his range. He is just as comfortable setting a short story to music as he is writing songs that get people to dance. Not many artists can pull that off, but Hyland manages to do it somehow. Western will be available everywhere on May 1. Order your copy here.
James Hyland – acoustic guitar, vocals, upright bass
Johnny Moeller – guitar
Warren Hood – fiddle, mandolin
Kim Deschamps – Dobro, pedal steel
Robb Kidd – drums
Kevin Smith – bass
Stephanie Marlar – vocals
Betty Soo – vocals
Marshall Hood – acoustic guitar
Chip Dolan – accordion, piano, B3 organ
Marvin Dykhuis – acoustic guitar, mandolin
Willie Pipkin – electric guitar
Will Landon – electric bass
Trevor Smith – banjo
JM Stevens – vocals, percussion