Jason Boland & The Stragglers

It’s admirable when a musician gets back to his roots, there’s no questioning that. But in a lot of ways, it’s even more admirable when an artist has no need to do that – having never lost touch with those roots in the first place. Jason Boland falls squarely into the latter category, having spent the better part of the last 15 years entrenching himself in the so-called “red dirt” of his native state of Oklahoma and adopted home in Texas and while spreading his musical branches to cover a remarkable amount of territory.

“I’ve always thought it was important to keep one foot in tradition and the other pointed in the direction you want to go,” says Boland. “I didn’t invent the G chord, so I’m standing on the shoulders of the giants that did, and on the shoulders of some great songwriters that have come before me. I’m using an old stencil, but adding my own colors.”

On their new studio album, Dark And Dirty Mile, Boland and his compatriots use a wide array of hues to illustrate 11 songs of rejection and redemption, dark clouds and silver linings, all assembled in the rough-hewn manner that’s earned him an ever-growing fan base – a following that’s snapped up more than a half-million records over the past decade and change.

Dark And Dirty Mile is a song cycle of sorts, one that finds Boland seeking – and finding -- beauty in life’s often-overlooked places, learning tough lessons through experience and overcoming obstacles with the help of others. That’s evident in the title track, which opens the album with a vividly drawn emotional landscape strewn with moments of regret and missed opportunities – but a clear bead on a clear horizon.

A similar dichotomy rolls through “Electric Bill,” a slow burn of a honky-tonk tune that conjures a picture of a man with an overdrawn checkbook in one hand and the hand of a loved one in the other – a sentiment he credits to his wife, who he says, reminded him that, “if everything is taken away tomorrow, there’s still love and hope in the world.”

Boland presents that sentiment without a drop of Hallmark saccharine, however. He doesn’t sweeten these tunes with easy studio tricks or the sort of pop trickery so often heard on Music City productions these days. The surface is anything but slick, and the sinew that runs through songs like the organ-tinged strut “Green Screen” and the high lonesome desert tone of his take on Randy Crouch’s “They Took It Away” lends a tone that’s ragged-but-right, ideal for Boland’s always-incisive lyrics.

“People don’t always expect to have a lot there in terms of lyrics,” he says. “Society says ‘if it sounds like this, you have to do songs about that.’ But if you just try to fit things together in the most simple way possible, you’re just trying to manipulate people, and I’m not interested in doing that.

“I think of myself as being in the Oklahoma tradition in the same way as Woody Guthrie – those of us who came up in Tornado Alley can all trace our lineage back to Woody.”.

Boland has been mining that territory for pretty much his entire career. Bowing in 1999 with the regionally popular Pearl Snaps – a first teaming with Lloyd Maines, who Boland cites as one of several seminal influences on his sonic vision – the Stragglers built a rabid following from the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast. Over the intervening half-decade, the band would team with similar kindred spirits – from Billy Joe Shaver to Dwight Yoakam compadre Pete Anderson to the late Bob Childers – to create an uncompromising body of work, as whip-smart as it is body-moving.

“We’ve always been lucky enough to work with people who feel the same way we do about things,” says Boland. “The world doesn’t always make sense, but you meet people around the campfires who will be there for you. That’s the big secret, 99 percent of people will share and break bread with you when times are hard.”

Boland himself says that he started to figure things out in earnest around the time he and the Stragglers went into the studio to record 2008’s Comal County Blue, a set that, as Country Weekly put it, “vividly chronicle the thoughts of a regular guy trying to make sense of the world and only occasionally succeeding, while keeping one eye on the reasons he keeps trying.”

That disc brought Boland’s songs to a wider audience than anything he had done in the past, but the momentum was slowed a bit by his need to take several months off to recover from surgery to remove a polyp from his vocal cord. He took the setback in stride, and now says, in retrospect, “it was a good thing in some ways, since it helped teach me to really sing and broke me of the habit of yelling – which is an easy habit to develop if you come up singing in Texas honky-tonks.”

By the time 2011’s “palpably redemptive” Rancho Alto (to quote the Austin Chronicle) came around, Boland had a firm rein on his instrument, which had grown into a burnished, evocative baritone, and further honed his pensive-but-not-pedantic writing style – all of which comes to heady fruition on Dark and Dirty Mile, co-produced by Boland and Shooter Jennings.

From the steeliness of “Only One,” with its unflagging belief in love in the face of adversity to the wistful regret of the album closing “See You When I See You,” that strength shines through. It emerges in the two-step friendly rhythms of “Nine Times Out of Ten” and it burrows deep into the soil on the soulful swing of “Lucky I Guess” – songs that evoke the sight, smell and taste of the red dirt of his home territory.

“The t-shirt sellers love that phrase ‘red dirt,’ because it’s so simple,” says Boland. “But it fits. It was coined by the people making the music – rust in the ground, blood in the dirt. It’s real and it’s where I come from – and what I refuse to give up, no matter what.”

The Turnpike Troubadours

If Turnpike Troubadours are playing in your town, you’ll know it. A block or two from the venue, you’ll see the crowds lining up. Get closer and you’ll start to hear the music -- rockin’ hard, lashed by burnin’ fiddle and guitar, maybe a little rough on the edges but with a deep-rooted soul that's impossible to resist.

And if you make it through the door, you’ll witness one of the best shows you'll ever see.

Audiences in their home state of Oklahoma and down in Texas have known this for years. It's no longer news when they draw 5,000-plus at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, sell out three nights in a row at Gruene Hall or turn several hundred away at the Legendary Stubb's Bar-B-Q in Austin.

Word has spread, though: Their shows in Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere have pulled in more than 1,000 fans. And they’ve drawn full houses at Joe’s Pub in New York and The Troubadour in L.A., among many other nightspots from coast to coast.

They’ve even been picked by Playboy as one of three acts to watch in 2015 -- a distinction lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Evan Felker admits is “pretty bizarre” but impressive nonetheless.

So is that the story? “The Turnpike Troubadours Tear It Up Night After Night”

Actually, no. There’s another side to singer/guitarist Felker, bassist RC Edwards, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman and drummer Gabe Pearson. Maybe you don’t notice it as much at their shows, where their blazing performances tend to obliterate detached reflection.

But you’ll definitely notice it on their new album, The Turnpike Troubadours, to be released September 18th on their Bossier City imprint. Away from the intensities of their show, the music speaks more intimately. Details of their arrangements clarify. Above all, the lyrics become the center of attention, spinning stories so compelling that you realize you’d almost forgotten how powerful the message of a song could be.

There’s “7 Oaks”, recounting a life made desperate by poverty, made more vivid by an incongruous hoedown accompaniment … “Bossier City”, focused on a sad mill worker who blows his pay regularly on gambling and booze … “The Bird Hunters”, a short story set to a Cajun waltz about friendship, love and coming home … “Down Here”, a conversation between one guy who has lost all he had and another who assures him life "down here" really isn’t so bad … “How Do You Fall Out Of Love”, a melancholy meditation on lost love.

Dig deeper into the words and bits of brilliant craftsmanship gleam: “Hillbilly girl, as sweet as wine, grew up in the thicket like a muscadine.” … “Robbie’s got a brand new girlfriend. She’s got to strip for pills.” … “I left my heart in Tulsa on the corner of Easton & Main on the Cains Ballroom floor, soaking up a bourbon stain.” … “You bet your heart on a diamond and I played the clubs and the spades. We gambled and lost. Yes, we both paid the cost. Look what a mess I have made.”

“Human beings like stories,” Felker insists. “It doesn’t matter what form, whether it be a song or a movie or a poem. And they’ve always been drawn to characters. Our songs are real life applied to stories applied back to real life. I might get a plot line from several short stories I’ve read. Then I’ll build fallible characters into the midst of all that. They’re never archetypes. They’re real. It’s all about the character.”

In fact, characters are so central to the Turnpike Troubadours that they often turn up in more than one song. On The Turnpike Troubadours, for instance, the narrator in “Down Here”, Danny, turns up again in “The Bird Hunters”.

“Stephen King has this canon of characters and any of them can walk into one of his stories at any time,” Felker says. “You have all these characters living in the same universe. I haven’t ever seen that applied to songwriting, but that’s what I’m doing.”

This universe feels real on The Turnpike Troubadours because the band resolved to let the album happen on its own time. Moving out to the Prairie Sun recording complex in the desert country of Cotati, California, setting up in former chicken coops converted into studios, they metaphorically unplugged the clock and worked studiously through 12-hour sessions, wrapping up only when each story and every note rang true.

"This album sounds like us at our best," Edwards says. "We weren't going for being overproduced. What we got was exactly what we wanted because we didn't have that time factor problem."

And this is the paradox of the Turnpike Troubadours: Do they sound their best when they're delivering another electrifying live show or when they've crafted an artful album, enriched by a narrative tradition that traces back to their fellow Oklahoman Woody Guthrie, in which every nuance tells a story unto itself?

Honestly, the band doesn't worry much about that.

"The show is about people having fun," Felker says. "The more fun they have, the more fun we have and the better off everybody is. The record is about understanding the poetry in a real way. I figure it's like people sitting around in their house, maybe drinking a beer. That's more the place for poetry. "Our sound comes from playing country music, punk rock and anything else we liked in honky-tonks and beer joints," Edwards adds. "You've got to give the crowd something to dance to and have a good time. But songwriters are the most important thing. So I think everything we've done says that you can have it both ways."

The proof is on The Turnpike Troubadours and at whatever place they're playing down the road near you. Think of them as a two-headed silver dollar; on both sides, you've got a winner.

Sold Out


Show :: 8:30pm (times subject to change)

Advance $25 | Day of Show $27 | Door $29 | Mezzanine (21+) $40

There is a $2 fee that applies to each ticket purchased at the Cain's Box Office.

No re-entry! No smoking! No refunds!

Oklahoma Joe’s will be serving their full menu from 7pm – 10pm.

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