Travis LaBrel is a rough-looking dude. He’s much bigger than his little brother Dave, lead singer of Olin & The Moon, the band both of them are in. He often sports wide bandannas tied around his forehead and has knuckle tattoos that read “LAST CALL”. He’s Olin’s lead guitarist, and when you see him tearing it up with the band he looks like a younger Brian Venable. I’ve seen Travis and his band open for Lucero and I’ve seen him drunk at Lucero shows. He’s played gigs that I’ve put on with the likes of Michael Dean Damron, Two Cow Garage, and Matt Woods, and I have to say…he has never ceased to surprise me. Because Travis Labrel has a delicacy to his songwriting that is at times missing from the genre.
Gas Food & Bed covers many themes that you couldn’t call revolutionary: whiskey, lost love, squandered youth, life on the road. “Only If You Want Me”, the opener, is centered around a relationship falling apart. It’s the quiet care that LaBrel takes when choosing his words that is so compelling: ‘The window’s cracked just a little bit, you can feel the summer creeping in’. Though both his voice and guitar pick up the volume and force halfway through the song, at the start it’s like he’s dipping his toes into both the music and the memory; the album is full of thoughtful moments like this. The title track, about a tense trip with a love interest, hides half of its sweetness in the quiet guitar picking in the background. The instrumentation informs lyrics that would otherwise seem somewhat sparse.
I say this with all of the confidence of an armchair Sherlock Holmes: this is definitely an acoustic album written by a talented guitarist who has observed another songwriter over time. This is LaBrel’s first solo effort, though his band has released several records, and you get the feeling that he’s still finding his sea legs. Even if you find the subject matter familiar, there’s something in LaBrel’s voice and tone that you want to listen to, to root for. I don’t think you can get a better point across with a debut album.