My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Hidden gems of 2018

Here are my favorite album tracks of the year, omitting the albums which made my best albums of the year list.

10. Jay Bragg – ‘The Dreamer’ (from Honky Tonk Dream)
Honky tonker Bragg’s debut album may be only eight tracks, but it’s a strong collection. Best of the bunch is this pensive reflection on how strongly rooted a love is.

9. Kathy Mattea – ‘Mercy Now’ (from Pretty Bird)
A spare, tender version of Mary Gauthier’s song.

8. Jason Boland & The Stragglers – ‘Hard Times Are Relative’ (from Hard Times Are Relative)
A moving story song about a pair of young siblings supporting one another.

7. Catherine Britt – ‘The River And The Gum’ (from Catherine Britt & The Cold Cold Hearts)
Australia’s Catherine Britt retruned to her traditional roots for her latest album. This folk-country ballad is a delight.

6. Ashley McBryde – ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’ (from Girl Going Nowhere)
An excellent, thoughtful song about the lif of a struggling musician and what makes it worthwhile. It should get some more attention this coming year, as the track has just been announced as Ashley’s new single.

5. Joshua Hedley – ‘Counting All My Tears’ (from Mr Jukebox)
Very retro, and very good. This sounds like a forgotten classic from the early 1960s.

4. Mandy Barnett – ‘Lock Stock And Teardrops’ (from Various Artists, King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller)
An exquisite version of a classic.

3. Cody Jinks – ‘Somewhere Between I Love You And I’m Leavin’’ (from Lifers)
A strong song about a relationship on the verge from a rather mixed album.

2. Pistol Annies – ‘When I Was His Wife’ (from Interstate Gospel)
The trio’s latest album didn’t qute make my top 10 of the year, but it is a strong and artistically ambitious collection. The barbed lyric of the best song on the album, set to a sweetly vulnerable country melody, reflects on an acrimonious divorce.

1. Oak Ridge Boys – ‘If I Die Drinking’ (from 17th Avenue Revival)
A magisterial gospel reading of a wonderful song previously recorded by its co-writer Vince Gill. (The other writer was Ashley Monroe.)

Album Review: Jason Boland and the Stragglers – ‘Hard Times Are Relative’

Jason Boland and the Stragglers are usually reliable purveyors of country music infused with a little Red Dirt attitude.

The opening ‘I Don’t Deserve You’ is a pretty good midpaced love song. Sunny Sweeney’s harmony vocal adds charm.

The lovely title track is a sweet story song about a pair of orphaned siblings looking out for one another in the 1930s. This is the best song on the album.

Also great is the solid honky tonker ‘Right Where I Began’, with a protagonist taking refuge in country music and a one night stand for temporary relief from his heartbreak:

Ol’ George sings a leaving song where the cowboy rides away
Hey, Ronnie’s got me figured out
She’s back on my mind to stay
And old Jones said “He stopped lovin’ her”
I hope that ain’t today
So I’ll sit back down on the stool and let the jukebox play

I got Jack Daniels by the handle
My best Bud’s in the can
Some Wild-ass Turkey sittin’ next to me
Talkin’ ’bout the plan
But I’ll find a wife for the night and I’ll be her lovin’ man
Then tomorrow morning I’ll take her home and I’ll be right where I began

My next favorite is nostalgic waltz ‘Do You Remember When’, which reflects on “progress”:

Folks might still waltz around dusty dancefloors
But three quarter time’s never played anymore
And shameless promotions may get the place full
So drunk girls can ride a mechanical bull

Everyone talks about good old dancehalls
Then make for the tourist traps and shopping malls
Oh, how I wish this was all a bad dream
We’d wake up and Bob Wills would still be the King

Who would’ve thought it could happen so fast –
The reckless abandonment of all our past?
In one generation forget who we are?
So let’s talk politics and religion in bars

‘Predestined’ is a nice philosophical song with a soothing melody and somewhat unclear lyrics, and ‘Going Going Gone’ is also pretty good.

‘Searching For You’ has a jazzy feel with slightly haphazard doo-wop style backing vocals which is quite catchy but not entirely to my taste. ‘Grandfather’s Theme’ is rather more progressive jazz, and sounds a bit weird to be honest. The musicianship is impressive, but it feels self indulgent. ‘Dee Dee OD’d’ is a rocker which is apparently about the punk band the Ramones. ‘Tattoo Of A Bruise’ is not very interesting and is also quite rock influenced. The set closes with a cover of Van Morrisons folk-rock ‘Bulbs’.

Overall, there is about half of an excellent album, and half one I’m not especially interested in.

Grade: B

Album Review: Jason Boland & the Stragglers – ‘Rancho Alto’

Jason Boland is a singer-songwriter with a poet’s heart, and with his band the Stragglers, is one of the acts in the Texas Red Dirt movement most deeply rooted in country music. His latest album, released on APEX/Thirty Tigers, is not quite as strong as his last studio album, 2008’s Comal County Blue, but is still a good collection. Boland wrote almost all the material, and his songwriting is consistently impressive and substantial. The album was recorded in Austin with Lloyd Maines producing, although the artist’s work is clearly rooted in his home state of Oklahoma.

The best song here is the gripping ‘False Accuser’s Lament’, an intriguing reinterpretation of ‘Long Black Veil’ from the point of view of the witness who claimed the narrator of the original song was the killer. The tune is new, but there are enough lyrical nods to the Marijohn Wilkin/Danny Dill-penned country classic to make its origins obvious. Tormented nightly by guilt, he reveals that he was paid off (with ‘the price of a new plow’) by the banker husband of the woman who would have been the convicted man’s alibi. In this version he knew of his wife’s affair but couldn’t face it all coming out in public, effectively making the framed man’s sacrifice pointless. Our narrator admits bleakly,

Father please forgive me for I falsely testified
They had me swear upon the Bible and I lied

The pensive ‘Obsessed’ dwells on an intense but fated relationship. The almost-melancholy ‘Between 11 And 2’ shows us a pair of lost souls eventually finding one another in the dead hours of the night. Jason wrote it with Noah Jeffries, who also plays fiddle and mandolin. The same pair wrote ‘Pushing Luck’, a rockier number where a potentially interesting story of a resentful lawbreaker feels overwhelmed by too-heavy production, not helped by the relative lack of melody.

The waltz ‘Every Moment I’m Gone’ is a rather lovely declaration of love by an ageing rambler, perhaps a seafarer, for the one waiting at home, which has a very old folk feel to the lyrics. The atmospheric playing of pedal steel dominates on ‘Forever Together Again’ (written by Roger Ray, pedal steel and dobro player in the Stragglers), a warmhearted tribute to a cowboy bar room crowd.

‘Down Here In The Hole’ is a strong song about working in a coalmine with some memorable lines and prominent fiddle. I also like ‘Fences’ with its fiddle-led instrumentation and singing melody, and the brooding if sometimes obscure lyric lamenting, I think, the fate of Native Americans:

She was there for the taking, there were promises made
But smallpox and whiskey were a mighty bad trade

All I see now are fences
The cards turn a profit but the people are gone
Theses old holes in the highway are so brutal on bones
You don’t dance with who brought you, it’s a lonesome walk home

The attractive ‘Mary Ellen’s Greenhouse’ paints an affectionate picture about making music with old friends in a welcoming place, based on a rehearsal place of Boland’s youth.

There are a couple of external covers. Bob Childers wrote ‘Woody’s Road’, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, ‘a rambling friend of man’. Finally, The part-spoken ‘Farmer’s Luck’ (written by Greg Jacobs) is another real highlight. It tells the story of a government-funded reservoir in Oklahoma which drowns a farmer’s land in the 1960s, set to a jaunty rhythm as the narrator’s grandfather, a small farmer complains to the bureaucrats and businessmen,

Well, you don’t know nothing about farming
You don’t know nothing about soil
You live up there in Tulsa and make your living off of oil…

They’re gonna dam the Deep Fork River and damn the farmer’s luck

This is an interesting and worthwhile release by an excellent songwriter.

Grade: A-