There’s something about driving cross country at night that focuses your mind. A big part of it probably is the lack of distraction from the landscape. There’s also a heightened awareness that comes from the lack of visual queues. The result is a very different radio experience. That’s the premise of the new album from James Hyland, Western. It’s the sound track from a play Hyland wrote about driving at night switching between a couple of radio stations.
The epitome of that is Dark And Weary World, a ballad about driving down the Central California coast after a gig. Hyland contrasts that modern tale with Full Moon and its story of riding shotgun at night on a stagecoach. Another song that takes us back a century is White Men In the Black Hills, stating the obvious question asked by Native Americans then as well as now, “how can we ever trust you to keep a deal”. That’s followed by the perhaps natural progression of a massacre on Today’s a Good Day To Die in a country rap style.
Hyland lightens the mood quite a bit with Nashville Song, where writing a song with 3 chords and 5 cliches is a metaphor for selling out and getting rich. Also on the lighter side is The Ballad Of Eddie Mullet. It’s a country kicker about a small time criminal and his two sons, Hank and Bleu, “and they got mullets too”. Swing It Your Way is a tongue-in-cheek Texas swing number about giving women the right to vote. It features Stephanie Marlar and Betty Soo on vocals, and is really the only song where Hyland doesn’t carry lead vocal duties.
Hyland was an original member of South Austin Jug Band, as was fiddler Warren Hood who plays on most of the record. SAJB was a leading light in the merging of bluegrass, indie, and roots music that became closely associated with Austin. From that perspective, Western doesn’t stray far afield. But there are some great stories put to music on the record. Hyland has a group of crack Austin musicians in his band and when you give them this kind of rich content, they deliver. As a result, Western is well worth dropping onto your quarantine listen stack.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.