Jason Boland & The Stragglers

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."

"There has always been pop music, but country music was always the avenue out of adolescence and into the grown up world with grown up issues like responsibilities and family. Someone's got to keep it alive, to preserve that kind of sound. That was our aim with this record."

Jason Eady's extensive background in "grown up issues" is what explains why the word "poet" is so frequently associated with his name. A six-year stint in the US Air Force as a translator placed him in a slew of foreign cultures giving him a universal look into the nature of human beings and a good jumping off point for his comprehensive lyrical translations. The Mississippi native and Texas transplant has spent the last seven years in an incubation period undergoing a musical metamorphosis that has led him through lonesome delta blues, inspirational church house harmonies, poetically spun tales of Americana and into the naked and honest regions of good ole' country music.

His three previous record releases have laid an impressive foundation starting with his 2005 debut FROM UNDERNEATH THE OLD (produced by Walt Wilkins and Tim Lorsch). That was followed by his 2007 sophomore release, WILD EYED SERENADE (produced by Eady), which was tagged as the Top 50 Albums of the Year by the No Depression reader's poll and reached #14 on the Americana Music Chart. WHEN THE MONEY'S ALL GONE (produced by Kevin Welch) is the last anyone has heard from Eady, until now.

AM COUNTRY HEAVEN, Eady's fourth record release, originated as a side project with friend (and producer) Kevin Welch. The plan was to lay down some old school authentic country music out of sheer self-indulgence and as a labor of love. As the recordings got underway more and more people appeared in the studio contributing their ideas and adding their personal touches until their side project evolved into what is the highly anticipated album everyone is talking about. Eady says, "I love that old school country music so much. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of artists doing it these days. It's almost the opposite…like people are running away from it. I admit that this record is a drastic departure from anything I have done before, but this is where my heart is."

AM COUNTRY HEAVEN features Redd Volkaert on guitar, Earl Poole Ball on piano, Tom Lewis on drums and Kevin Smith on acoustic bass - all members of Austin's all-star team of country music players called Heybale. Combined, they have recorded and toured with artists such as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Junior Brown, Dale Watson, Connie Smith and Johnny Bush. They're responsible for the southern swagger on this album's tunes like "AM Country Heaven" and "I'll Sure Be Glad When I'm Wrong." Add legendary pedal steel player Lloyd Maines on the soulful "Longer Walk In The Rain" and "Lying To Myself" and a special vocal appearance from the incomparable Patty Loveless on "Man On A Mountain" and Eady's rich baritone timber, and what you have is a pure honky-tonk affair in the tradition of all the great troubadours that came before him.

In addition to his own albums, his talent for prose has been embraced by his peers landing him two cuts on Micky and The Motorcars' latest record RAISE MY GLASS, one cut on Eleven Hundred Springs' forthcoming record and two co-written cuts on The Trishas' forthcoming record. Eady also co-penned The Trishas' latest single "Drive." Although the radical departure that is AM COUNTRY HEAVEN is sure to strike fans like a storm without warning, it seems that Eady is merely living up to his reputation for the element of surprise as perfectly stated by USA Today who said, "This Mississippi native's blues-rocker creeps up like gathering thunderheads."

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