In order to fully understand and appreciate the debut album from RC and the Ambers, one thing must first be firmly established: this is not, nor is it attempting to be, a Turnpike Troubadours record. It is not even akin to the solo album by Kyle Nix, which carried many stylistic similarities to the Troubadours even though the lyrical content was quite different. This album presents a sound and style quite apart from anything yet recorded by either Turnpike or Nix. You won’t find a horn section on any Turnpike record, but the horns are a prominent feature of Big Country. Turnpike albums don’t generally employ zydeco rub boards either, but Amber Watson brings this to the band’s sound and gives the album a unique Cajun flavor. Perhaps RC Edwards himself described this project best when he said: “It was a chance for me and Hank [Early] to get weird and record some songs that I had been playing live.” This idea of “getting weird” must be accepted and embraced by the listener; then the true beauty of Big Country will shine forth.
This album never takes itself too seriously. The title track is an ode to former Oklahoma State University basketball player Bryant Reeves, complete with clips from Reeves’ days on the court. “Oklahoma Beach Body’ is at once a Red Dirt satire of bro country and a fun little number that might have found traction on 90’s country radio. “Drunk High and Loud,” often played live at Turnpike Troubadours shows, is much the same, managing to be fun and catchy without compromising the lyrics or insulting the intelligence of the listener. Even when the record opts for a deeper sentiment, it is in the form of songs like “Astronaut,” wherein RC Edwards muses about being a jigsaw puzzle and his lover being the missing part, and “”Oologah,” in which the heartfelt story of the circumstances surrounding a marriage proposal are offset by the description of the Oklahoma college football team beating “the “ever-livin’ dogshit” out of Missouri State.
A Turnpike record this is not, but it does bring some of the same sense of place offered by many Troubadours releases. In addition to the aforementioned Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys being featured on this record, the album is sprinkled with references to Tahlequah and to the Cherokee people and captures the kind of charm that Tyler Childers brings to the mountains of Appalachia or that Red Shahan brings to the desolation of west Texas.
In short, Big Country is a unique and enjoyable listen. It is generally a lighthearted affair, and in some ways, this kind of album is exactly what the world needs at the moment. However, there are enough intervals of seriousness to add some weight to the record. With the horns and the zydeco elements, this release carries a sound unlike anything from Turnpike Troubadours and unlike almost anything in the current country space. Big Country is a solid debut from RC and the Ambers, and it will certainly be interesting to see where they will go in the future.
Big Country is available today everywhere you purchase or stream music.