Apr 10, 2017
May 25, 2016
Apr 14, 2016
Apr 1, 2016
This one hits the spot.
I haven't felt much like writing reviews for a while now. It's not that there hasn't been some good music put out this year - just nothing I felt I could put any passion into writing about. Also, since we've brought on the full-barrel punk energy of Robert Dean and the damn near peerless wordsmithery of Kevin Broughton, there hasn't been much need for my everyman type reviewing, but this new album from Flatland Cavalry has pulled me out of mothballs.
Flatland Cavalry's Humble Folks is also the first album of 2016 to stir up all the feelings I like to have when listening to music. From the wistfulness of "A Good Memory" to the driving introspection of "Devil Off My Back," the sentimental wanderlust of "Traveler's Song" to the sad-sack lamenting of "Goodbye Kiss," Humble Folks is a tour-de-force of emotions and textures.
"Easy on the ears, heavy on the heart" reads the description on Flatland Cavalry's website, and that couldn't be more accurate. Their sound is an easygoing mix of red dirt country, pop melodies, laid back swing, and heartworn folk. And there's so much fiddle. Lord, but I love me some fiddle and I love Laura Jane's fiddling. It's all a perfectly accessible approach but one that doesn't scrimp on the craftsmanship and songwriting.
"Tall City Blues" grabs you with its portrayal of loneliness and unfulfilled dreams amid the high-rises and concrete canyons of the city. You can just imagine the twenty-something small town boy taking the accounting job in Houston, then slowly realizing the "difference in making a living and loving what you do."
"Stompin' Grounds" rescues that dispirited fellow back to his home town where the Shiner is cheaper and colder and the people are warmer. There's a lot of that sort of longing in Flatland Cavalry's music - yearning for real interaction and authentic folks. It's a welcome and relatable desire in a world that seems to grow more mean and detached with every passing day.
Humble Folks is a great album; certainly one of my favorites of the early year, and well worth your listen. It's a familiar sound, but one that with repeated listens will reveal deeper layers and twists of melody you haven't heard before. These songs are sure to make you think, smile, hurt, and tap your foot. Sometimes all at once. That's what good music does.
Flatland Cavalry is a no-doubter for fans of Turnpike Troubadours, Wade Bowen, The Damn Quails, and the like.
You can find Humble Folks on Lonestar Music , iTunes, etc.. (Out today)
Sep 4, 2015
by Kelcy Salisbury
A few years back Norman, OK musical outfit The Damn Quails released an album, Down The Hatch, that shook up the musical scene throughout their home state, their neighbors to the south, & beyond. The album was roundly praised - it was actually the first album I reviewed for this site (and was FTM's #1 album of 2011) - and the bands trajectory appeared poised for a major breakthrough. A year passed & the album was still selling relatively strongly, and soon two years were gone with little word of any pending projects. The band continued to tour, I continued to poke fun at Bryon White on Twitter, but it seemed like the idea of another studio project was distant at best & the strain of trying to make a living in the music business in this day and age seemed to be pulling the band apart. Eventually word broke that there was an ongoing legal dispute with the record label that had released the debut album, but little was allowed to be said about it, aside from promises of future music once the dispute was resolved. This went on for quite a while, long enough that when the band announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album, I wondered if enough people still cared enough to fund the project (Full Disclosure: yes, I did what I could.), that question was answered in short order as the band easily passed their stated goal & the project was begun.
Usually I try to hear whatever new stuff is available from bands I enjoy, whether it be YouTube videos or whatever. This time around I intentionally avoided hearing any of the new music until I could listen to the entire album. So I waited, until one day last week, when Out Of The Birdcage arrived in the mail, which was slightly more exciting than the Harbor Freight advertisement next to it.
The album opens strong, with the title track leading the way. The harmonies are strong, sounding exactly as the prior album hinted at as a signature sound for The Damn Quails. Lyrically there are few, if any punches pulled, and although the story told may or may not be a metaphor in places, this just sounds like a band that is absolutely thrilled to be working together again in the studio. It is the perfect opener & sets a raucous tone to an album that winds it's weigh through considerable emotional territory in it's 12 tracks. Not everything is as expected though, and that's a good thing as well. I hear a lot more traditional country instrumentation on a few tracks, most notably the fiddle work on "Woody Guthrie (From The Dust)," and the steel on "Just A Little While." One of my favorite things about Down The Hatch was the variety of instrumentation from song to song, and the subtle use of harmony as an instrument, all packaged with gut-punch songwriting. That appears to be fleshed out on Out Of The Birdcage, from the swooping organ on "Give It Some Time," the Stones-like groove on "Tightrope Walker," or the lyrical picture painted in "Man In The Mirror (Girl On The Plane)."
I'm not sure if it's fair to compare one album to another subjectively, and I wouldn't know how to say that one Damn Quails album or another was "better", but I am certain that both are exceptionally honest looks into exactly who the band is musically at that point in time. Down The Hatch sounded exactly like an exceptional group of musicians with diverse influences, making exactly the music they wanted to make. Nothing else sounded quite like it, and they had the live skills to build on the songs in a concert setting. This sounds like the exact same thing, just an election cycle further into life. Very few bands at any level can survive on so little promotion for so long, and they sure can't do it if they don't have the musical chops to keep drawing people into the live shows without having a new product to sell. To do it in this age of short attention spans & shorter shelf lives, speaks as loudly to the talent & heart of each member of The Damn Quails as anything I can say.
If you're reading this & you contributed to the Kickstarter, thank you for helping make this album happen. If not, the album will be out on all the usual outlets today. If you've heard Down The Hatch but waited on this one, buy it. If you don't like it, Bryon White will personally give you a lifetime supply of nothing & Gabriel Marshall will probably come do your dishes too. If this is your introduction to the band, it comes as a great starting point.
Out of the Birdcage will obviously be an early contender for a top year-end rating, so I guess I'd better put some kind of number on it. So give it 5/5 coveys. And go buy it. Seriously.
(Also, now that Swompfyst Records is actually a thing, assuming that one of their head honchos might see this, you really need to get with Javi Garcia & get a logo drawn up & some merch out ASAP. You're welcome for the literally several dollars this idea will surely send your way.)
Available at all the typical depots, including iTunes, Amazon, Lonestar Music, and Pornhub. Okay, not that last one.
May 20, 2015
An album doesn't have to be the be-all-end-all showcase of varied sounds and emotions to grab me as something special. It doesn't have to own a perfect balance of upbeat and plaintive moods. It doesn't have to intersperse rockers with ballads with mid-tempos at optimal track positioning. An album simply has set to some part of my psyche afire, open an electrical circuit between me and the music that never switches off for the entire length of the collection.
Whitey Morgan and the 78s' new album Sonic Ranch flips on the neon and never lets it fade from first note to last. It's a right-in-the-pocket ten-track slab of living, breathing, honky-tonking, country music perfection.
Morgan wrote 4 of the 10 songs on Sonic Ranch, the rest being well-chosen covers - or just new versions of older songs - whatever you wanna call 'em. While that may be a questionable approach to some purists (who conveniently forget that Jennings, Jones, and Nelson all sang other people's songs…frequently), it's not even a minor issue for me. Sonically, there's nothing that would prick your ears to the fact that Sonic Ranch is a patchwork of tunes from different artists and writers. Lyrically, the themes are consistent, and besides the obvious high-water marks set by the Tom T. Hall ("That's How I Got to Memphis") and Townes Van Zandt inclusions, there's no glaring variance in the quality of the songwriting.
It's amazing how an artist who's so comfortable in their own boots can almost create something entirely new out of another artist's vision. Whitey takes The Damn Quails' "Me and the Whiskey" from its more airy and folksy origin right into the smokiest barroom in town, sets up the amps and gets badass. As much as I like the original (and freaking love the Quails), Morgan makes this song belong to him and his 78s, turning the thoughtfulness of the former version into a swaggering statement of hard-headed defiance.
Morgan's own "Low Down on the Backstreets" continues the theme of the down-on-love high-on-the-town drinking man. "Take me down on Main Street, play me an old country song, when I get lowdown on the backstreet" he sings, and you're never quite sure if the confidence in his voice is from the strong drink or some inner bravado.
After rumbling through a fine cover of TVZ's "Waitin' Round to Die," Morgan digs in to a stunning take on Scott H. Biram's "Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue." The cocksureness of the album openers here takes a backseat to a bit more self-reflection and confession. Still, it's hard for a man with the thundering pipes of Whitey Morgan to sound anything more than a little contrite, and that contrast of intent vs. delivery adds to the magic of this adaptation. It's a clear standout on an album without low spots, and one of the strongest covers I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.
"Good Timing Man" removes the mask, and may be the true heart of this record. It's a treatise on the differences between the real man and the country singer who'll "put on a smile and my old guitar" then go backstage to drink away his misery. It's one of the most honest moments on Sonic Ranch, and provides a balance to and an explanation for all the bluster early on and afterwards.
Sonic Ranch is as strong a "real country album" as you'll hear in 2015. It's refreshing to hear such unfiltered honky-tonk music in this day and age of contrived edge and softened edges. Morgan and the 78s' version of modern outlaw country is a comparable sound to what Sturgill Simpson is doing, but with a blue collar approach and a more pronounced low-end. This album may not drive Morgan to acceptance/hype in the same circles as Jason Isbell and Sturgill, but it's a big statement album that will bring in new fans and make old ones very happy. It's my favorite album of the year thus far, and obviously highly recommended.
Sonic Ranch is available on Morgan's site, iTunes, Amazon, etc.
Apr 21, 2015
William Clark Green has hit a proverbial home run with his latest effort, Ringling Road. Forgive the Baseball analogy, but it is April. At the time I am writing this, my beloved Cubs are sitting atop the NL Central Division, so you know where my head is at! As for WCG, this is really nothing new to those of us who have followed the Lubbock, Texas based artist from jump street.
Though, this album seems a bit more polished and fine-tuned production wise than his previous work (that isn't a bad thing!), it never draws you away from his skillfully crafted lyrics, and soulful voice. Ringling Road marks the second collaborative effort between Green and producer Rachel Loy.
WCG has a knack for storytelling and pulling you into a song. As most brilliant artists do, he creates vivid mental imagery, with lines like "the interstate's pumping like a vein, full of California plates." You can't help but picture that, and then listen for the next great line!
With every record, Green matures a little more, digs a little deeper, and evolves. He rolls along like a well oiled machine, recycling and repurposing bits and pieces of whatever pops up to sting him along the way, and uses them as inspiration.....mastering his craft one step at a time. I wasn't surprised at all with Ringling Road. More great songs, great melodies, and sonically pleasing rhythms.
WCG, here, has distilled and perfected a lot of what we Texas music fans have grown to love from the better artists in our 'genre.' I'll refrain from the "thumbs up" cliché in my review, because I think that may be copyright infringement, but I will say this: I wish I had more thumbs for this record! I haven't liked every single track on an album since the release of Down The Hatch by Oklahoma powerhouse, The Damn Quails. Ringling Road is out today on iTunes, Amazon, Lone Star Music, and other outlets. Buy it!
Jamie Berryhill is a Texan, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and booking agent for 7th Planet Entertainment Group. He's only doing this gig for free wi-fi.
Jan 1, 2012
Dec 29, 2011
Hayes Carll - Another Like You
Hellbound Glory - Better Hope You Die Young
Willie Tea Taylor - Life is Beautiful
Brad Paisley - A Man Don't Have to Die
Nov 30, 2011
Nov 22, 2011
The Damn Quails - Down the Hatch
by Kelcy Salisbury
A great man (I’ve heard the quote variously attributed to Kris Kristofferson & Guy Clark) once said that there are two ways to write great lyrics. One is to write about “uncommon things in common words”. The other is to write about “common things in uncommon words”. As a music fan I’ve always leaned strongly on the lyrical quality of the music when choosing between what I consider good or bad. Of course good music requires strong playing and solid arrangements but that’s just the cover charge. To actually get in the club and make an impression, it had better have some serious lyrical weight.
I’m happy to report that the Damn Quails debut album, Down The Hatch, delivers on all counts. Most great songwriters excel at either common themes in uncommon words, or vice versa, to reference the previous quote one last time. The lyrical strength of the one-two punch that is Damn Quails songwriting is that they can pull off either type of writing with equal aplomb.
But there is much more here than just great lyrics and well crafted songs (I may be labeled as a heretic, but I’m looking at you Bob Dylan and you too, Neil Young when I say this). The performances, both vocally and musically more than hold up their end of the bargain and actually enhance the lyrics of each song.
Now, at this point in time the Quails are one of the most buzzed about bands in this region of the country and possibly in all of independent/Americana/Red Dirt music, so I’ll spare you the biographical information, but let me just say that I haven’t heard a duo that works this well together since at least Foster & Loyd, again risking being burned at the stake for heresy I actually prefer the Damn Quails to any musical duo I can recall hearing since the height of the Waylon & Willie collaborations and truthfully the Damn Quails are more of an actual duo than those efforts ever were. The third person whose contributions cannot be overstated is producer and Oklahoma music kingpin Mike McClure. The production is spot-on throughout the album. After about two dozen spins I can’t hear a single spot where I felt like the production was flawed or lacking, yet the album never loses it’s organic feel. It’s truly a remarkable achievement.
My personal favorite feature of the Damn Quails music is the interplay in vocal styles as they trade off lead vocals from song to song. Gabriel has a voice that vaguely reminds me of a celtic singer I heard once at a bar in Canada. Random I know, but I could definitely imagine him singing some Chieftains cover songs on a lark. Byron has what feels like a more classic country/folk voice to me. Neither voice is incredible on it’s own, though both are certainly very good. It’s the interplay of the two, and the changing styles from one song to the next that really give the album such a uniquely wonderful vocal quality.
Musically, there is plenty to love. The guitar work on opening track, Better Place To Stop, and Parachute both stand out to me but every song has great instrumentals, even a touch of organ in places. There is not a weak link musically on the entire album.
Lyrically every song is exceptional, I suspect everyone who listens closely will have a different favorite and will possibly change their minds about what that favorite is after each listen. Each song evokes the emotions of the story being told as the lyrics are perfectly blended with the instrumental arrangements to paint a picture that words alone simply cannot do. My personal favorites on the album are Fools Gold, Parachute and California Open Invitation but I don’t skip a single song any time I listen and I doubt I ever will.
If you can buy only one song on this album, save your money until you can buy the whole thing. A true piece of art deserves to be seen/heard the way it was intended to be, as a whole and this is a truly great piece of art. I simply have nothing negative to say about it.
Finally, this is deservedly the most buzzed about band out of the musical hotbed that is central Oklahoma in quite a while and (with all due respect to Jason Boland & The Stragglers whose Rancho Alto is incredible and all the other acts who put out great work this year) I am willing to state that this is the best record of the year, regardless of genre. It’s simply that good.