Pat Green

It's impossible to know your limits without testing them. It's a truth that Pat Green has employed in his career, one that has propelled him to repeatedly refashion his sound, his approach and his own perception of who he is.

He's simultaneously a Grammy-nominated hit maker with an outsider reputation, a Texas inspiration and a mainstream country artist who can rock arena and stadium stages with the likes of Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney.

Each of those roles has its own place. But each of them is too small to define Pat Green, who after 15 years in the recording business has earned the right to be everything Pat Green can be. Without limitations.

"I'd much rather be me and comfortable in my own skin than trying to be five different guys to get to the top," he says.

In fact, after building a reputation as an ace songwriter of his own material, Green is fighting even that limitation with Songs We Wish We'd Written II, a sequel to a 2001 album he recorded with longtime friend—and fellow Texan—Cory Morrow.

Stocked with music penned by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Tom Petty, Shelby Lynne and Jon Randall, the disc—Green's first for the acclaimed Sugar Hill label—mixes country, rock and blues in a manner that defies categorization. Petty's "Even The Losers" and Collective Soul's "The World I Know" will be familiar to just about anyone who gives the album a listen. Others, such as Aaron Lee Tasjan's quirky "Streets Of Galilee" and Todd Snider's burning "I Am Too," are introductions from the underground to a large majority of music fans.

Songs We Wish We'd Written II is an expansive step in Green's ongoing development. By piecing together songs from a variety of writers, he was able to assemble an album that reflects the multiple genres that influence him as an artist. The source of the songs wasn't as important as the quality of the music and its ability to connect with Green's maturing sense of his craft.

"If you listen to my young music or anybody's young music, it's all over the place," he suggests. "It sounds like that because the thoughts are all over the place. You were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, the TV was on a cinderblock – that's all cool. That's all we needed, then. Now, I've grown up a bit. As my life has evolves, my taste for music continues to evolve with it."

While Green was looking for songs for the album from outside sources, he was adamant about recording music that ultimately seemed designed specifically for him and his band. With drummer Justin Pollard co-producing, Green drew up an initial list of 10 titles and recorded them during a concentrated week of
sessions in Austin. They tracked another five in Tyler, Texas, then culled the best to get the final 10 cuts on Songs We Wish We'd Written II, creating a cohesive package from disparate sources.
"We all just sat around discussing and if somebody's idea would sound better than my idea, I'd get fixated on it," Green says. "I would very much encourage them to bring an idea. For instance, the Walt Wilkins song 'If It Weren't For You,' that was somebody else's idea completely. There were all kinds of ideas going around from Genesis and Peter Gabriel, Colin Hay from Men at Work – all kinds of crazy stuff from the '80s. Of course, we ended up with Petty from 1979."

They also ended up with a stellar list of guests. Collective Soul's Ed Roland brings an authentic cynicism to "The World I Know," Jack Ingram's threads a snarling desperation into "I Am Too," Cory Morrow adds a craggy earthiness to "If I Had A Boat," and former Sons of the Desert member Drew Womack adds a smooth, Vince Gill-like presence as a backing vocalist on the driving "Austin."

Monte Montgomery provides a thick, expressive blues voice on the Allman Brothers' "Soulshine" and trades licks with Green's guitarist, Chris Skrobot, in some of the most riveting moments on Written II, with their dueling lines careening like pinballs.

Skrobot also introduced Green to Aaron Lee Tasjan, who's something of a new discovery on the album. Tasjan's "Streets Of Galilee" combines a seemingly random parade of images into an escapist story while Tasjan makes a wry vocal appearance, adding an ethereal presence in the mold of AAA talent Brett Dennen.

"Aaron is a super guy, an amazing talent, and he has a band in New York called The Madison Square Gardeners, so he's obviously a very funny, very clever human being," Green assesses. "He's definitely the kind of writer I really enjoy listening to."

"Galilee," "Soulshine," "Jesus On A Greyhound" and the imagery in "Austin" combine to form a spiritual undercurrent on the album akin to the message of Green's biggest hit, "Wave On Wave." It's appropriate – Green spent much of the last two years searching his conscience as he battles the prism of limitations that were created by his own successes in Texas, and on a national stage.

And in a way, Songs We Wish We'd Written II is the first chapter in the next act of his career.
"There's a man inside of me now that didn't used to live here, whereas there was only a boy before," he says. "The boy was so strong and had done so much, so I'm kind of seeing things in a new way. The last couple years have really been an eye opener, much more intense and richer."

That's a large statement – Green's life and career have already been filled with rich experiences. He's co-written songs with Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Jewel and Rob Thomas. Appeared on such national TV shows as Austin City Limits, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Show With David Letterman. Been hailed by Billboard, USA Today, Esquire, People and Country Weekly. Toured with the likes of Kenny Chesney,
Keith Urban and the Dave Matthews Band. And become a concert force in his own right, regularly selling out venues from Los Angeles to New York, where he's now sold out his last seven appearances.
All of that is impressive. But it's also history. As much as he appreciates it, Green puts it in his place on his cover of "Even The Losers," where he highlights a lyric that Petty obscured in the original: "It's such a drag when you're living in the past."

Green may be recognized for those past achievements, but he doesn't intend to be limited by them as he continues to progress creatively. And that progress will come by simply testing what it means to be Pat Green.

"I want to be me," he says. "There are so many people who live with so many masters in their lives. I really just need one."

Jason Boland & The Stragglers

This is country music.

In a recent commercial-country star's genre-defining song, the act of singing about Jesus, tractors and little towns is portrayed as an unfashionable act that runs counter to the current of societal norms. Rebellion is drinking a cold one, getting a little loud, although it's never mentioned what the country folk are getting loud about. Country music seems to be an increasingly neutered genre, where nothing at all is said, where a hit song that welcomes a world where a black man could become president was seen as a bridge too far by some. Contrast that discomfort with the bravery of an artist like Merle Haggard producing a song like "Irma Jackson" in the late 1960s. That The Hag is name-checked by so many current country stars as an influence is ironic, given that the bravery exhibited in this one song is greater than the combined bravery of every artist currently on the country chart.

Into this tepid landscape, Jason Boland releases his latest album, Rancho Alto. Even though its songs are not likely to be topping the country charts anytime soon, Jason is adamant that this is country music. "It may fit in with some other types of music, like Americana maybe, but I'm not ready to give up on the idea that country music can be relevant," says Jason. "And country music is what I play. My fans are George Strait fans. They go to the dancehalls to see shows. I know these people. They are more capable of complex thought than the country music industry thinks they are."

Jason was born and raised in Harrah, Oklahoma (like the casino he says – "there weren't any around where I grew up, I used to joke, and now there are") and went to college at Oklahoma State University, where he formed a band with some like-minded mates. Jason Boland and The Stragglers went on to become one of the most popular bands of that region, having released five albums since 1999 and having played in front of millions of fans during that time. Boland has certainly had his challenges along the way. His fraternal college drinking turned into frightening full-blown alcoholism, and was ultimately admitted to Sierra Tuscon Rehabilitation Center for 28 days in October of 2005. In 2008, as his most recent studio album Comal County Blue was being released, he ruptured a polyp on his vocal chord, and doctors thought that he might not be able to sing again. Because the journey has been difficult, Jason operates with a deeper resolve to say something worth saying.

Many of the characters that populate Rancho Alto are struggling and reacting to their travails. The album's lead track, "Down Here In The Hole," tells of a miner who is stuck


in a cave-in, maintaining hope despite his predicament ("I'm finding out when troubled, the sprit can glow"), but also ruminating on the limited options that put him in the hole to begin with ("Some say I fell between the cracks and some say I was shoved").

Less resigned to his fate is the protagonist of "Pushing Luck," a man who has been living outside the law in order to take care of his family. He sees little difference between his "hustle" and the government's, where the government has taken money to perpetuate its existence, and with which it has funded the assault on his homestead. He has a bulletproof vest on, underneath his overalls, and stands ready to fight the power.

Rancho Alto has moments that are not quite as fraught with political tension. Jason has two outright love songs on this album. "I never really wrote love songs before," he says, adding that having found a stable love allowed him to channel these sentiments more readily than before. "Mary Ellen's Greenhouse" is a love song of a different sort, written for the mother of one of his first band mates, who would let the trio put on jam sessions in her greenhouse, as well as feed them. "I wanted to write a song to thank those people who support us broke-ass musicians and allow us to do what we do." Boland also shows his immense imagination, songcraft and reverence for country music in "False Accuser's Lament." He takes a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern turn on the classic country song "Long Black Veil," where the song is sung from the point of the view of the accuser whose false testimony led the protagonist of the original song to his execution.

But at heart, this album is about embracing the truths that country music used to tell, but that it can seemingly no longer stomach telling. That spirit is behind two of the covers that Jason chose to record for the album. One is the legendary Bob Childers' "Woody's Road," in which Jason sings about reaching out to the helpless and hopeless "and the folks nobody wants to know." In the final song of the album, the Greg Jacobs-penned "Farmer's Luck," Jason tells the tale of a farmer who made his living and raised his family on his bottomland farm, only to have the government declare eminent domain on his land, dam the Canadian River and turn that bottomland farm into the bottom of a lake, made for recreational purposes. Power makes a cameo, declares it progress and leaves the stage. Meanwhile, people grill out and water ski, never considering a man's home, life and labor were put asunder for their recreation.

It used to be that a country artist would sing about the farmer that lost his land. Now they glorify that party at the lake. For those of you who love country music, but hate what it's become, Jason Boland will sing you back home.

Rob Baird

Rob Baird will be the first one to tell you that he hasn’t always been 100%, shall we say, forthright as a songwriter. Back in college (not too terribly long ago), he recorded an album that he has since “completely buried” — primarily, he says, because back then, “I just wasn’t writing about anything that really meant anything to me.” His next album, 2010’s Blue Eyed Angels (which he considers his proper debut), was a fair deal closer to his heart, but even then he was still an artist in search of himself. Songs like “Could Have Been My Baby,” “Blue Eyed Angels” and especially “Fade Away” all demonstrated that he was ultra-confident in the hooks department and talented enough to sound like he knew what he was doing, but Baird himself was still not entirely convinced. By striking contrast, one listen to his new album, the aptly titled I Swear It’s the Truth, and it’s clear that Baird has not only found his sincere artistic identity, but grabbed his sense of purpose by the wheel and pushed pedal to the metal. “I’m moving like the wind through the trees, like a train on a track, there ain’t no stopping me,” he declares on the opening “Dreams and Gasoline. “Let the wheels spin free.”

Three years of touring successfully can have an effect on one’s confidence, as does the benefit of just having a little more time to mature. Baird, now 25, wrote and recorded Blue Eyed Angels when he was only 21, at the end of his senior year at Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University. Baird stayed in Texas after graduation (relocating to Austin) and began carving out his own niche. But even as Blue Eyed Angels found traction on regional radio on the strength of his steady touring and solid singles like “Could Have Been My Baby” and “Fade Away,” Baird formulated his own style, cut with guitars both jangly and crunchy and crisscrossed by rivers of pedal steel and tasteful organ, that quickly set him apart from rest of the Texas crowd.

Since then, Baird has drawn favorable comparisons to artists from the wider Americana landscape like Ryan Adams, Chris Knight, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty.

Scott Davis, long-time Hayes Carll band member, produced both Blue Eyed Angels and I Swear It’s the Truth. “I met Scott through my first manager, and he started taking me under his wing,” Baird says. “Scott was a pretty big influence as far as going, ‘You can be two kinds of people: You can be a party band, or you can try to be an artist.’” Baird picked the latter.

Last March — three years after making Blue Eyed Angels but less than a year after the album’s release — Baird and Davis began work on I Swear It’s the Truth at Austin’s Cedar Creek Recording studio. They had to work around both Baird’s and Carll’s touring schedules, though, which allowed Baird plenty of time to fine tune his latest batch of songs and Davis time to assemble the perfect team. In addition to Baird (guitar) and Davis (guitar, banjo, piano, and organ), the album features guitarist Keith Gattis; Carll’s rhythm section of drummer Kenny Smith and bassist Cody Foote; pedal steel and dobro players Ricky Ray Jackson and Ben Kitterman; and background vocal support from Kelly Mickwee of the Trishas and Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist of the Band of Heathens. Near the end of the sessions in January, guitarist Woodrow Morgan and drummer Nate Coon from Baird’s road band came in to play on one of the pedal-steel laced “Same Damn Thing.”

“That’s actually my favorite song on the record, I think,” says Baird of “Same Damn Thing,” one of several he collaborated on with co-writer Rick Brantley. “It describes pretty much how you feel every time you play, no matter if it’s a good show or a bad show. By the time that you’re walking out of the bar at 3 in the morning, you’re like, ‘Dude … everything’s good, but what an interesting life this is.’”

Baird and Brantley also co-wrote “Dreams and Gasoline” (another slice of life on the road) and the album’s emotionally gripping centerpiece, “Redemption.” “He’s really into desperation, the small town kind of stuff, and I am, too, so we complemented each other on that,” Baird says. “‘Redemption’ has a real kind of loneliness thing going on; it seems like a lot of these songs have that theme.”

In addition to Brantley, Baird also co-wrote songs with fellow Texas-based artists Ryan Beaver (“Along the Way,” “More Than Willing”) and Drew Kennedy (“Don’t Cry for Me”), as well as one with East Nashville’s Andrew Combs (the trenchant “Black and Blue”). Baird wrote the decidedly more optimistic-leaning (but still lonely!) “Can’t Stop Running” solo, and the album is rounded out by three outside contributions: Combs’ “Please Please”; “40 Days and 40 Nights,” by Brantley, Mark Shelby, and Tia Sellers; and “I Can’t Get Over You,” by Americana mainstay Buddy Miller. The miller song was a longtime favorite of Baird’s that he turned to during a trying time in a relationship, which made it the perfect coda for I’ll Swear It’s the Truth, an album that rings emotionally true from beginning to end.

“I just think it’s a really honest record, and it’s kind of the only record that I knew how to make at this point,” says Baird. “‘I’ll swear it’s the truth’ is how I feel about all of these songs. I’ve definitely felt this way in the past three or four years, and I feel like this is a pretty strong collection of songs representing where I am now and what I’m trying to do, whether it’s for better or worse.

“I’ve really spent a lot of time trying to perfect my writing, or at least trying to figure out who I am and convey that better in my songs, and trying to perfect the live show, because I want to be around for awhile,” he continues. “I just want longevity. If it takes a long time to figure out how to get enough fans to be able to tour the country and stay out there, then that’s fine. Because if it’s just going to be a flash-in-the-pan kind of deal, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth doing.”

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Pat Green with Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Rob Baird

Saturday, August 3 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Whitewater Amphitheater