I have been burned out on the Red Dirt Music scene lately. I don’t know why but it has seemed like everything sounded the same and that’s just depressing because I am usually all fired up about my TX/OK boys. Luckily for me Chad Sullins dropped an EP on us and renewed my faith in our little scene down here. I won’t even bother mentioning that 9b doesn’t usually write about EPs since AIV has already pointed that out recently. This little seven song acoustic jewel was the perfect find for me at the perfect time. Some days you just need a some stripped down acoustic stories to get you through and let me tell you these seven songs fill that little niche for me right now. I don’t want to go on about this one because the music speaks for itself. Suffice it to say that this is one EP you should make sure you get your grubby little hands on as quick as you can.
While a lot of folks bill this kid as being in the same genre as folks like Stoney LaRue, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Max Stalling, et al. it is my opinion that he’s not. Now mind you, I hadn’t heard a lot of his stuff before Junky Star but what I had heard I wouldn’t have classified as Red Dirt which is probably why I hadn’t actually checked out more of his stuff. I got this album from a friend of mine and it sat un-listened to and gathering dust until a few weeks ago when I was digging through my stack of stuff to check out when I have time. I dropped it on my mp3 player and didn’t pay much attention to be honest. I didn’t pay much attention until I started hearing these tracks I had never heard before coming up in my random playlist that were good enough I had to look and see who it was. After realizing I had made a mistake not checking out Ryan much earlier I listened to the album all the way through and was happily surprised. As I eluded to before quite a few people throw Ryan Bingham in to the Texas Country heap with all the others but I think he is much more than that. Now you all know I love my Red Dirt Music but this kid transcends any genre you could try and pigeonhole him in to.
Junky Star is honestly hard for me to describe. It’s got a lot of folk feel to it but it has a drawl in the music itself that identifies it as decidedly Texas without having a steel guitar and twang to every track. This one feels like it has been flayed and laid open for all to see. The songwriting is deep and and attacks the stories within the songs from a perspective most folks would consider. “Hallelujah” takes the love song and lets you see it from the perspective a newly lover wanting to come back to the love of his life and refusing to accept death while “All Choked Up Again” is a ballad of patricide and a lover loving unconditionally. I keep feeling like there’s a hint of Dylan somewhere in the lyrics along with a generous portion of Townes Van Zandt but I also feel like that doesn’t really give Ryan enough credit. It’s all well and good to see some of the influences but I have to stress that Ryan’s work is his own and he’s not just a couple of, albeit amazing, songwriters that may have influenced him. The depth runs through every song on this album as does the gravel in his voice. Like so many of my favorite albums this one makes me want to drink whiskey but this one makes me want to do it alone in the dark where I can confront myself just a little bit.
Calling Ryan a country singer doesn’t cover it; as far as I am concerned this boy is a straight up troubadour and while the music itself might not be your thing if you don’t bother listening to this one you are missing out on some of the best songwriting out there these days. I personally like the stripped down feel that this album has compared to a lot of my favorite music these days. It’s a refreshing break even if a little paradoxical as it is also darker, musically, than most of the stuff that grabs my attention these days. After tossing it aside, letting it stay on random for weeks and finally giving it the listen it deserved I have no choice but qualify Junky Star as Essential Listening!
Wade Bowen is one of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt boys and he has finally dropped a Live at Billy Bob’s Texas album on us as a CD/DVD combo. If you know anything about the scene you know that everyone has to do one of these at some point and that they are always good. You can look through the careers of Jason Boland, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and just about any other Texas artist and you’ll find one of these discs in their releases. It’s not limited to Texas boys either with the likes of David Allen Coe, Merle Haggard and other legends having a Live at Billy Bobs Texas release to their name. Wade joins the club with the one and it’s everything one would expect from both him and Billy Bob’s without a disappointing moment on either disc.
This album and the atmosphere it conveys is the reason I got into the Texas/Red Dirt Scene. Originally a member of West 84 which, in 1991, re-aligned with Wade as the front man and started releasing albums as Wade Bowen & West 84 and eventually as just Wade Bowen he has over a decade playing music and recording albums and still leaves it all on stage. This is something you can really feel on this album. It isn’t like being there but it’s as close as you can get with your headphones on. There just isn’t a bad track on this one and the quality of the live performance puts it close to the top of the stack as far as live albums so far this year. If you have never heard Wade Bowen before this album is as good as any to start with but I’d wager if you started with you wouldn’t be stopping with it. It’s rare for me to think a live album is Essential Listening but just about any Live At Billy Bob’s Texas is good enough to make the list and this one is no exception.
I remember one summer evening down in Corpus Christi with one of the psychos I dated between my first wife walking out on me and finding the amazing angel that wears my ring today. We had driven down to see her birth parents and the engine in the shitty little car I was driving had burned up, I mean glowing red manifold kind of burned up, with nary a warning light on the dash so I was stuck there. Now there are worse places to be stuck for sure but it still wasn’t great. My psycho was off with some dude on a Harley and had been since about four hours after we got there. I was sleeping on a kids bunk bed and trying to ignore the ever present smell of pot that permeated even the walls. I was, too say the least, not a happy camper. So in an effort to clear my head I started fiddling with the FM radio part of the cheap clock beside the bed. What I found was a radio show playing Texas Country/Red Dirt and talking about the artists. The second song was “Raise Hell, Drink Beer” by Eleven Hundred Springs and later on in the show, it was a much smaller genre at the time, they played “Long Haired Hippie Freaks”. Needless to say I was hooked. I was also inspired to hike nearly two miles to the store and pick up rations and by rations I mean a twelve pack of Lone Star longnecks. So between the music and beer I was able to make it through the two days it took to get my old man to come get my ass.
Now while that story took more telling than I thought it would that’s how I first heard of Eleven Hundred Springs and since it fits the title of the album I figure it’s alright. Suffice it to day those long haired hippie freaks are back with an album full of full on honky tonk that would make Hank Williams and Bob Wills proud. Eleven Hundred Springs sings about drinking and cryin’ in your drink, leavin’ and gettin’ left, and everything in between. They don’t always stick to traditional “country” topics but they always make sure the music is pure and they succeed. This Crazy Life is one of their best albums to date. There’s not a track on here that wouldn’t be at home on a jukebox in a dive with sawdust on the floor and there’s a couple that might even inspire someone to a higher level of drunk and quite possibly disorderly. It’s a given that this one is Essential Listening. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a steel guitar but this album and it’s twang sets me in a mood that I particularly like and right now it’s my favorite thing on my playlist. There’s not often a waltz that doesn’t make me want to slide these old Justin’s around a floor with a pretty girl on my arm but I am not sure I could manage it to the too-close-to-home lyrics on “The OG Blues” but I am damn sure I could raise a toast to Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and all of their ilk to the refrain of “Great American Trainwreck”. Before I go running off and start talking about every song on this thing let me wrap up here and let the music speak for itself.
The Josh Grider Trio has departed from the traditional country album with Sweet Road to Ride. While there are some songs that would be immediately identified as country the band has added a groove to their sound that defies the purist sound that runs through the Red Dirt Music scene and it works. In Josh’s own words “Everybody knows who Merle Haggard is, everybody knows who Dave Matthews is, so if you say we meet in the middle, that’s kind of what’s goin’ on. It’s got the boogie in it”. While I am not sure about the Dave Matthews reference Josh is right about this music having the boogie in it. While You Were Sleeping is a catchy little number about leaving in the middle of the night that makes you tap your feet and want to get up and dance and on some level that’s just wrong. A leaving song shouldn’t boogie but damn it does and does it right. Follow that up with Halfway There’s admonition of “It’s too late to go back now” and it’s harmonies and you’ll think you’ve got a feel for where Josh is going but then he takes a turn and hits you Again which is pure cryin’ in your beer music.
Josh has been around the Red Dirt scene for a while and has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants with his music and he does a fine job of it on this album. JG3 is amazing live but this offering is almost as fun as a live show. There is energy here that isn’t found in a lot of studio releases. I can see why Texas Red Dirt Roads described it as the group playing like a child plays with a new toy. It’s definitely a must have for Red Dirt fans.
Some days things just work together. While I was writing up the review of A Damn Good Ride I dropped by Jeremy Steding’s website to look for his bio and such and found out he was playing in town that night. I grabbed a phone number off the site, made a call, and set up some time with him before the show. As luck would have it and one thing leading to another I wasn’t as early as I wanted to be but since it was a Thursday night show there wasn’t an opening act and there was still plenty of time to meet The Band of Bastards and get to know them before the show. And a damn fine show it was…
(In case you’re wondering that is a Jason Isbell shirt on the Eric.)
What I learned is a that Jeremy is originally from Florida and came west to Austin in 2007 with an unmastered, unreleased “Whiskey Songs and Prison Songs” to pursue music in the Red Dirt scene. Having been inspired by old Pat Green (before he went Nashville), Cory Morrow, Robert Earl Keen and the like he figure Austin was the place to be if he wanted to play his kind of music.
I know our gracious host would disagree, being a huge fan of the Florida music scene and rightfully so, but Jeremy made his trek and is now making his mark on Red Dirt Music. One of the highlights of the night was finding out that Jeremy is fan and friend of Pete and Larry from Truckstop Coffee. Those boys are perennial 9B favourites and it’s always nice to find other fans.
Jeremy is at a point in his career that he says many never make it past. He’s playing decent venues and getting decent turnouts but intimates it’s fairly easy to get stuck there for a good long while and some folks can’t handle what seems like being in a rut. He handles most of his own booking, all of his merch, all of the publicity pretty much managing himself and the Band of Bastards. He uses all of the standard methods today such as twitter, myspace, facebook, and so on to get the word out about his music and his shows all while giving away his recorded music on his website. He and the band have a sponorship from Budweiser and they are touring hard. He says he loves the work and doesn’t mind all the time it takes to self manage. I did ask him specifically about giving away the albums on the website and he explained that while they sell a good number of CDs at shows that he wanted more people to discover his music. He thinks that people don’t buy as many CDs as they used to because of worrying about the investment. What if the CD sucks? So he put both albums for free, gives out business cards everywhere he goes that tell people where to go to download it, has a donate button if you want to toss a couple bucks his way, and still sells just as many plastic shiny discs at shows. And it’s working. More and more people are hearing his music and coming to shows. And that’s where Jeremy Steding and the Band of Bastards really shine…
And let me tell you: These boys can tear up a stage. I liked the album and that’s pretty clear from my review but seeing them live is just damn good. It’s not as big a difference as Cory Branan’s live vs. his studio work but it is something that has to be seen to be believed. Jeremy is a showman for sure and he pulls in the audience without even trying. He’s still young so the show isn’t as polished as some of the old timers but whether it’s belting out his original songs are having a little fun with classic covers like You Never Call Be By My Name whilst claiming it was written by “…a friend of a friend of a friend of my dad’s” on Canadian bacon in eyeliner you can tell that Jeremy is doing what he loves and the Band of Bastards is having as much fun as he is. And when I say he gets the audience involved I mean the isn’t above calling out the drunk birthday girl to help out with The Boys From Oklahoma.
…they’re too damn skinny and way too long…
In closing you shouldn’t miss the chance to see this Florida boy turned Texan play a live show. With a band that cites influences ranging from Truckstop Coffee to Jason Isbell you certainly could do worse. And as far as the more country and western shows go I am not sure you could do better these days.
The Band of Bastards is:
- Matt Winegardner – Drums
- Eric Smith – Bass
- Steve James – Lead Guitar
You can see the full gallery from the show over at romeosidvicious.com .
Here’s some tracks off of Jemery’s first album since I don’t have any live tracks (except the one from this album) from him just yet:
And the Boys From Oklahoma…
I like free music and I think that’s a given for most folks here but the caveat is that music is not like sex or pizza. When music is bad it’s not still good whether it’s free or not. Jeremy Steding’s music is not bad. In fact it’s damn good and both his albums are available for free on his website. He’s pretty new to the Red Dirt scene. I discovered him listening to Radio Free Texas and was intrigued. So I dropped his website and was even impressed to find both of his albums available fro free. The best part is that the boy is good at what he does.
The title track of this Red Dirt Music album starts with a salute to The Old Crow Medicine show and has a zydeco groove that’ll make you want to swing your baby ’round the dance floor if you are so inclined. That’s not the only hat tip on the album. Let the Boys Drink Whiskey is a nod to the deep Irish roots in country music and the chorus is reminiscent, in spirit, of Cory Branan’s Sour Mash. Not afraid of showing his honky tonk roots The Sand Panther Medicine Show takes us back to a better time musically while the lyrics keep us right here today with all the ills modern life has to give and offers us a cure for our ills. Closing the album is a country ballad that could have followed Eddie Rabbit’s classic Drivin’ My Life Away on the radio so many years ago and let me assure you this a complete album all the way around.
Overall this is a solid country album that you might have missed is you weren’t looking for it. I would say get off your ass and buy it but since you can surf on over to his website and download it you have no excuse. So I’ll simply end this with a quote from my favorite song on the album and a nod to AIV’s home state…
Just let the band play dixie, let the boys drink whiskey, lay me in the ground and hoist the Bonnie Blue…
(The Bonnie Blue, for those that don’t know, flew over the short lived Republic of Florida and inspired the Burnet Flag which flew over the Republic of Texas.)
A bunch of relative youngsters compared to the greats from which they take their name the Slow Rollin’ Lows show no immaturity on their sophomore release Erie Street. Their name is from a song straight out of the fountainhead years of Red Dirt Music, penned by Billy Joe Shaver and belted out by Waylon Jennings on Honky Tonk Heroes and they do right by greats they invoke by choosing the name. Formed in the sweltering summer of 2006 when Calvin “Pug” Johnson got together with drummer Jeremy Porter and Jordan Dean on bass. While only a three piece band these boys hit hard and don’t apologize. I have heard tell that the sophomore album is one of the hardest for a band since you have to combine your live shows with whatever first album you released and still manage to please your fans and while I can’t say I have seen SRL play live, something I plan to remedy, this album doesn’t feel like a second release. The tunes are polished, the lyrics flow, and the band is tight. Top that off with clean production and you have one of the best albums to come out of the scene this year.
SRL pulls off the outlaw sound without it feeling ripped off. In fact I think you drop the boys from Fannett, Texas right into the heydays of the outlaw country scene and no-one would think twice about them being there. With nods to Jackson Taylor in the lyrics (Hippies, Drunks and Rednecks), obvious hat tips to some of the greats in their musical stylings (Green Eyed Girl) and songs that inspire the sort of drinking that leads to organ failure (Sad Country Song) this is, hands down, an album that’s going on my top ten for the year. Some college bands I have heard don’t have the maturity to pull off a career in music. They get together and put out an album or two, if that, and then disappear as the members graduate and get real jobs. SRL are all audio engineering majors at Lamar State College but I think their music will take them farther than their degrees. They avoid the usual college country party sound and instead opt for songs that display an understanding of life’s ups and downs. I could write a blurb, at the very least, about every song on this release and that’s the best thing about it. There’s not one track that is worth skipping. Hell it’s hard to pick just three for this review but luckily for you the album is easy to acquire over at their website. I want to go on a lot more about this album but that could be due to a lack of sleep or a lack of whiskey and me wanting to kill time until I can one or the other so I’ll wrap it up and let you decide for yourself about Slow Rollin’ Lows.