Joshua Ray Walker sure seems like he’s having fun on Glad You Made It. Sure, the album opens with the stunning “Voices”, a song of loneliness and despair. Yet as the album progresses, Walker leans into the country side and showcases his guitar-playing prowess in ways much more prevalent than it was on his 2019 debut.
“Bronco Billy’s” starts as a moderately ambling waltz before transforming into a honky-tonk dance floor extravaganza led by pedal steel and one hell of a walker acoustic guitar solo. “User”, a song about drug use, is pure Bakersfield country punctuated by some stellar horns while “Play You a Song” is a bluegrass charmer with Walker’s fiery pickin’ again on full display.
“True Love” kicks off with glorious electric guitars that recall the Eagles’ “Already Gone”. Yet the title and glorious intro are deceiving as the song paints a less than optimistic romantic picture – Walker proclaims “What time doesn’t mend it’s surely gonna break” and declares “true love was meant to fade.”
“Cupboard” and album closer “D.B. Cooper” also have a moody 1970’s country rock vibe. The latter, in particular, explodes into a guitar-driven fury (no doubt channeled the country punk ferociousness of his work with Dallas rock quartet Ottoman Turks).
You know that feeling that you get when you’ve been cooped up all winter, staring out the window at cold and dreary weather? This isn’t the album for those days. This is the album you want to hear the next day, when the sun is shining and you step eagerly into the light with a carefree attitude.
Taylor Young’s debut solo release, crafted with his friend Toby Pipes (Deep Blue Something), crackles with an irresistible exuberance. “Get Around” opens the album with a touch of 1960’s go-go pop wrapped in a modern package. “Make You Want to Stay” and later “Daze of the Week” follow with heaping helpings of jangly guitars. Album closer “Drinkin’” is a head fake towards Texas country, served up as a fun pop sing-along.
Sure, there is a wistfulness tucked amongst songs like “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” and “Rattled”. Even then, however, it’s still hard to not get lost in the shimmering pop melodies. Heck, even “Five Cents”, his swipe at the Spotify economy has a feel-good vibe. “For 15 years I’ve given all my life to pressing cotton and selling time,” he sings, “I’m running out of ways to fuel this life so give me something to survive.”
Nothing Worth Saying, Ronnie Fauss
Sometimes left-overs are anything but left-overs. “Nothing Worth Saying” was recorded during the sessions for Fauss’s excellent 2017 Last of the True. Had the song appeared on that album it would have easily been a favorite. In that sense I’m thankful that it is finally being released. As the song rollicks along, Fauss sings about giving up whiskey, cigarettes, and coffee (what’s left, Ronnie?) but really speaks to the truism that actions are often louder – and more important – than words.
Now this is what country music is supposed to sound like. While “country” has zigged and zagged around them, Eleven Hundred Springs have spent more than 20 years steering the straight and authentic course.
Primary songwriter Matt Hillyer has the right amount of wistful expressiveness in his voice, not mention his songs. Here ‘Tis has plenty of songs about heartbreak – as there should be. Titles like “The Songs You’ll Never Hear” and “Miles Apart” make their subject matter clear while “This Morning It Was Too Late” finds him lamenting a freshly broken heart after a sleepless night.
But this morning it was too late
She moved on like she didn’t have another minute left to wait
And I’m rarely ever up this early, so I’ll take the time to contemplate
All the reasons that this morning it was too late
Hillyer and company also reflect on the benefits of rural life (“Let’s Move Out to the Country”) and life as a musician (“Looking Back” and “All Jokes Aside”). “All Jokes Aside”, written by HIllyer but sung by guitarist Chad Rueffer, is particularly potent. A jovial melody doesn’t mask the sobriety of lyrics that chronicle a fellow musician living life to hard and fast.
The spirit of country music is alive and well with Eleven Hundred Springs.
No, the album title isn’t a reference to Charlie Brown – it’s something much more meaningful. Fort Worth-based Matthew McNeal channels a troubling period in his own life into music that is inspired and uplifting.
Musically, McNeal sits in the pop realm but infuses his music with an intoxicating R&B flair. An air of funkiness permeates the pop of “Levity” while there is a genteel soulfulness on “Change”, where he cautions “don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Both McNeal’s songwriting and vocals on “Michael”, a tribute to his late father, call to mind another Michael – Michael Jackson. The King of Pop vibe gets even stronger on the “Be Yourself” as he confesses “Everything is better when I learn from the mistakes that I’ve made.” A lesson for all.
Sometimes an artist just wants to have a little fun. In advance of releasing her next album of original music, Peters offers up a wonderful collection of covers. She mines the past several decades for songs both widely and lesser known. While Mixtape features some well known classics like America’s “Sister Golden Hair” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle”, Peters focuses most of her attention on indie artists compositions like eels’ “Packing Blankets” and Pernice Brothers’ “The Weakest Shade of Blue”. She calls in Dallas punk band CLIFFFS to join her on this jangly take on Canadian indie rockers The Weakerthans’ “Aside”.
Texicana’s debut is chock full of 1970’s rock goodness, retro without feeling dated. They announce themselves quite well with the raucous opener “Little Bit of Love”, which Twangville had the honor of premiering in March. “Pretty Reckless” injects a touch of Memphis soul into the rock mix, a la Big Star, while “City Witchy Baby” has a rumbling Joe Walsh vibe. The EP closing title track is a freewheeling gem that hearkens back to early Glen Frey and Jackson Browne.
Twangville premiered the new Frenchie’s Blues Destroyers album a few months back but it is still in heavy rotation. In particular are the Beatles-esque “I Long to Come Home”, the bluesy romp “Take A Stand”, and the R&B flair of “Never Meant to Hurt You”.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.