Sherpa / Square Peg Present
Randy Rogers Band
Wade Bowen, Josh Abbott Band, Stoney LaRue
1402 Clinton St.
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
Randy Rogers Band
When a band spends the bulk of its year on the road, its members are bound to have their share of trouble and strife. But only the truly talented are able to take those trying experiences and turn them into enduring art. The Randy Rogers Band is one of those few, and they've transformed coal into diamonds yet again on their latest album for MCA Nashville, Trouble.
Teaming up for the first time with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage the Elephant, The Wallflowers), the Texas five-piece—vocalist/guitarist Randy Rogers, guitarist Geoffrey Hill, bassist Jon Richardson, fiddle player Brady Black, and drummer Les Lawless—dove headfirst into songs of loss, love and, above all, truth.
"We like to view albums as snapshots. It's a photo of where the five of us are and where we came from. We made this record as a team and we're really proud of it. It showcases who we are as a band and we got to include some of our heroes—and you just can't beat that," says Randy.
In the fall of 2010, thirteen years to the day after launching his career at Stubb's Barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, Wade Bowen started recording this self-titled album, his first for a major country label. Those years had seen Bowen rise from collegiate greenhorn to the top of the Texas music and Red Dirt circuit. His colleagues and friends the Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and others had already made the major label leap, helping to take a vibrant regional sound to the rest of America. Now it's Wade Bowen's turn to bring some Red Dirt and independent spirit to country music at large.
This isn't a debut, more like a fresh start on a bigger stage. Working with Justin Niebank, a master mixing engineer and Vince Gill's producer of recent years, Bowen cut new versions of four of his most popular songs along with seven new tunes that reflect his evolving vision as a songwriter. Longtime fans (and there are quite a few of them) will hear the Bowen they've known and the next steps on his journey. They'll get better acquainted with the ballad singer who doesn't often get a chance to show himself in honky tonks. Newcomers will hear a head-turning country artist with range, road-tested hits and one of the best male voices in the business.
That voice truly jumps out of these 11 tracks. Wade's baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whisky and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of Niebank's sculpted guitar-scapes. The sound is one hundred percent country, rife with pedal steel and vivid emotion, but it's also music could easily find a home with fans of Bowen's non-country idols - folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. Take a few passes through this project and you'll hearing a singer's singer and a focused songwriter who's adding layers to his music all the time.
"All this work and the care we've taken with this album just falls in the category of trying to get better," says Bowen. "When it comes to my intent as a musician, I've not changed anything since day one. I've only tried to mature and tried to get better, and I think this record is representative of that." On a live circuit where the overwhelming mandate is to stir up a party, Bowen has aimed to leave folks with a memory. As a writer, even one from a state with some tall literary traditions, he's not trying to earn a PhD in poetry; he's trying to communicate. "My style," he says, "is more to try to evoke an emotion. I'm more about trying to leave a mark on people."
Growing up in Waco, Bowen's exposure to the music of Texas was limited to whatever made it on FM country radio. George Strait was king. Guy Clark was a name he'd not have recognized before getting to college. There, in Lubbock, he discovered the iceberg below the surface, starting with Robert Earl Keen. "He was a big changing point in my life," says Wade. "I realized by listening to him that there was way more out there than I ever knew. So I started getting into Guy Clark and other great Texas music. But I was obsessed with Robert Earl. When we started the band we were sort of a Robert Earl cover band."
That band was called West 84, and they found that with their large posse of friends who'd always show up for a good time, it was easy to land gigs. Bowen meanwhile began to channel a life-long love of writing into songs, and when college ended he made two major decisions. He took on the role of solo artist under his own name, and he moved to Austin. By then, about 2001, fellow Waco native Pat Green had busted out to national prominence and the Texas music phenomenon was the buzz of Nashville. It was part of Wade Bowen's inspiration to charge ahead.
Try Not To Listen is the album Wade regards as his true debut, the project that kicked off a life and living made of 200-plus nights a year on the road and patient grassroots fan development. Then with Lost Hotel in 2006, things really began to click. The opening track "God Bless This Town" reached No. 1 on the bellwether Texas Music Chart, and over the next six years, he released six more chart-toppers and three additional top fives. He achieved another landmark when he was invited to add his name to the roster of great artists who've made a Live At Billy Bob's CD/DVD combo at the iconic club in Fort Worth. With a decade that good, it was inevitable that Music Row would become interested.
The origins of Bowen's new record deal can be traced to his music publisher, Sea Gayle Music. It's where Brad Paisley, Radney Foster, Jerrod Niemann, Chris Stapleton and other do their songwriting, and in 2010, it was the first indie company to be named ASCAP Country Publisher of the Year since 1982. Sea Gayle has a track record of investing in artists and helping them reach their potential, and that's how they've worked with Bowen, ultimately backing this album and introducing its independently made sound to Sony Music. Step one in that process was to find a producer who could preserve Wade's vision yet find the sweet spot that would help his music have its best chance at country radio. "Of all the producers we talked to, Justin Niebank was the only one who said 'I need to come down and see you live,'" says Bowen. "Well after 13 years of doing this I'd hope someone would want to see what we do, why we have fans. He totally got it and based the whole sound of this record around that."
That live immediacy certainly throbs on "Saturday Night," which tracks the internal monologue of a lonesome hombre sitting on his stool, nursing his drink and thinking about "that sad goodbye." As the album's first single, its chiming descending guitar riff will be the first thing many audiences will hear from Wade, his calling card. Also likely to grab listeners early is "Patch Of Bad Weather," a brisk, rocking take-down of a treacherous lover. It paints dramatic pictures of a stormy Texas landscape and it kicks like a gun.
Bowen has also taken advantage of his recent songwriting sessions and the comfortable studio environment fostered by Niebank to develop his love of ballad singing and the emotional side of country music. "All That's Left" brings strings into the mix, and it works. Bowen sounds at home. In "Say Anything," a guy can't think of a thing to say to a girl he's just met except gush on about the one he let get away, so he shuts up and listens. Its chorus will surely make some leading male country singers wish they'd been given a shot at the song. "I love those songs like that. Sad ballads," says Bowen with an apologetic shrug. "That's where my passion is. 'Say Anything' is one of my favorite tracks on the record."
Bowen was extremely pleased that the offer of a deal from Sony's BNA Records included an invitation to re-work his best material. "It was a huge opportunity to make these four songs a little better," he says. "We've played them lives for a long time, and we learned from that. We changed some tempos and tried to animate them a little bit. We created more dynamics and more signature hooks. That's stuff Justin has taught me as a producer."
Among these, "God Bless This Town" is probably the closest Bowen has so far to a greatest hit. A Texas No. 1 in 2006 and a popular music video with tons of CMT and GAC play, it's got stories layered in its stories and its characters feel familiar and alive. The narrator is torn between cynicism and attachment, and the song is all the more affecting because of it. The new version has a clean, coiled energy that ought to propel it into the hearts of a new wave of fans. Also re-worked is the smoldering "Trouble" and a breezy song written by Paul Thorn called "Mood Ring" that uses a dime-store novelty as a device to get the narrator to reveal his conflicted feelings.
Now one last note, because Bowen knows it's going to be interesting to roll out a "Nashville" album to his fans. A contingent of them have preemptively made it known that they live in mortal fear of Bowen being eaten by the Music Row machine. Yes, Wade did record this project in Nashville, with Nashville session players. But study those previous albums, and you'll see that's exactly where and how he's made them all. Bowen's been making regular writing trips for years as well, working with an expanding circle of masters and taking advantage of the town's expertise and experience. Wade will tell anyone who has a low opinion of Music City that for him, it's the home of Guy Clark and Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell, of the greatest guitarists on Earth, the finest studios and producers.
And of course Nashville was the origin of those radio dreams instilled when Wade was growing up in Texas and hearing country legends on his FM radio. The calling he felt was toward authentic music that reaches people, and that's not unique to Austin, Lubbock, Waco or Nashville for that matter. It lives in the heart and the work of the artist, and those who've believed in Wade Bowen all along will find in this album and the many albums and tours to follow, plenty more reasons to keep the faith.
Josh Abbott Band
Weeks before its Valentine’s Day release on iTunes, the Josh Abbott Band’s “Touch” was already well on its way toward being one of the most talked-about songs in Texas music of 2012. Granted, the hot-streak momentum of Abbott’s career had a lot to do with that. In the wake of the breakout success of “Oh, Tonight” (which climbed to No. 44 on Billboard’s country chart) and the title track from 2010’s regional smash “She’s Like Texas,” created a stir that reached all the way to music executives in Nashville and New York City. That set up pretty much any track that the 31-year-old singer-songwriter picked to be the lead single from his band’s much-anticipated third album nicely, ensuring it was bound to garner a fair amount of attention. But from the very first time it was played in concert or over the airwaves, it was clear that “Touch” had a lot more going for it than just good timing. From the erotic tension and release of its slow-burning verses and soaring chorus to the dramatic crescendo of fiddle and guitars at the outro, it’s a song that captures every ounce of the passion, talent, and vision that’s propelled the Josh Abbott Band to the forefront of the Texas music scene in record time. And as the rest of Small Town Family Dream proves convincingly, they’re here to stay.
Truth is, that’s been pretty evident for a while now — even though the Josh Abbott Band has only been recording and touring for half a decade. Abbott didn’t even begin writing songs until around 2004, when he was still in grad school at Texas Tech in Lubbock. A diehard Texas country fan, he’d picked up guitar a few years earlier, mainly to strum along to his favorite Pat Green songs. He vividly recalls the epiphany he had at a concert one night at Lubbock’s Blue Light when the notion of writing and playing his own music — maybe even for a living — first took root.
“It happened to be the Randy Rogers Band playing that night, but it could have been Pat or Wade Bowen or Cory Morrow, any of those guys that I saw over the years,” Abbott explains. “I always had this fascination with what they were doing. I’d go to their concerts and there’d be hundreds if not thousands of college kids singing along.
That night at the Blue Light, I just remember watching the band and thinking, I want to do this…I think I can do this.”
“Maybe that was a little naïve at the time,” he admits with a laugh, “but the truth is, I guess I’ve always felt like if I’m going to do something, then I just can.” And so he did. Together with his banjo-playing fraternity brother, Austin Davis, Abbott began putting that confidence to the test at open mic nights. A year and a half later, fiddle player Preston Wait and drummer Edward Villanueva came onboard, and the fledgling Josh Abbott Band was off and running — slowly, at first, but not for long. “We didn’t record a demo until 2007, which was ‘Taste,’ and then we didn’t even get a booking agent and start touring outside of Lubbock until 2008,” says Abbott. “But after that, everything started happening so fast for us that we really weren’t ready for it at first. We’d start showing up at venues and there’d be a lot of people there, and we didn’t even have enough originals to play 90 minutes. And it was kind of a weird deal for us because there were a lot of bands on the scene that were a lot more tenured, and they went from not even knowing who we were to all of a sudden playing these co-bills with us within like a two-year span. I mean, we definitely paid our dues, but it all came together a lot faster than we’d anticipated. For that, we’re so grateful.”
Abbott, though, was too focused on building his band’s loyal and ever-growing fan base to fret too much about critics or skeptics. Booked to play towns like Waco where they could barely draw a 100 paying customers early on, he’d once gave away 100 more tickets through the local radio station — figuring that if even half those people showed up, they’d bring along friends, every one of them a potential new fan. At one particularly memorable show at the Wormy Dog in Oklahoma, he thanked the crowd of some 300 people by inviting every one of them to hit the merch booth for a free CD and T-shirt.
“We probably gave away thousands of dollars of merch that night, but ever since, we’ve done really well in Oklahoma City,” says Abbott. “Another night, I think I bought the entire bar a round of shots, and my bar tab was like $1,000. But it was my way of showing everyone there, ‘I’m just thanking you for coming to our show tonight, because you didn’t have to, and I want you to know I appreciate it.’ We have so much gratitude for our fans and the people that come to our shows. You want to thank every single person. When you do that, you don’t just create fans, you create friends — people who are gonna then go out and pitch your album and who you are to every single person they know.”
The results speak for themselves. “Josh Abbott has ascended to that A-list level of the Texas country scene faster than anyone I’ve ever seen coming from an upstart position,” says Chris Mosser, the morning host of Austin’s 98.1 KVET-FM who also programs the station’s popular Texas country “Roadhouse” program. “And it seems to me that for a lot of the younger Texas country fans, he’s definitely the gravitational center of the current scene. His impact with the kids is remarkable.”
Nevertheless, with great impact comes great responsibility — specifically, the responsibility, as an artist, to continue to reward those fans not with free T-shirts and shots, but with new music worthy of their continued support. To that end, Abbott knew there was a lot riding on his band’s third album. Fans in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and beyond helped the independently released She’s Like Texas climb all the way to No. 28 on the national country chart, and following it up was going to be a tall order.
“My main objective for this album was for it to be cohesive,” says Abbott. “I think at least half of the songs on our first album [2009’s Scapegoat] were really good, but it wasn’t our best effort. But we really hit a home run with She’s Like Texas in terms of creating a big fan base and a little bit of radio success and even a bit more national success than I thought we were maybe ready for or even going for at the time. So when we went to record this one, I thought, ‘I don’t know that we’ll have another song go national like ‘Oh, Tonight,’ but I do want it to keep the consistency of the last album.’ But at the same time, we tried to take it in a different direction, too.”
To wit: whereas Abbott’s songs on She’s Like Texas for the most part paralleled the timeline of a romantic relationship, Small Town Family Dream finds him celebrating the independent spirit of the people who make his beloved Lone Star State well, his kind of Texas. “Dallas and Houston and Austin and San Antonio, they’re all great, but the backbone of what makes Texas really Texas is the rural communities,” explains Abbott, who now lives in Austin but still thinks of West Texas as home — specifically, the small town of Idalou, right outside of Lubbock. “The farmers and ranchers and all the other people who work their asses off while living in small towns all across the state … this whole album is really an ode to them, and I really wanted that theme to come through in the songs.”
And it does — from the opening, hometown salute of “Idalou” and all the way through to the closing title track. He also salutes the brave fire fighters and the communities affected by the statewide 2011 wildfires in the raging “Hell’s Gates on Fire,” and the plight of Texas farmers battling the recent drought in “Rain Finally Coming Down.” Meanwhile, the Adam Hood/Brian Keane song “I’ll Sing About Mine” — one of the first covers the band has ever recorded. While songs like the aforementioned “Touch,” “She Will Be Free,” “Dallas Love” and “Hotty Toddy” all prove that Abbott is still a natural when it comes to flattering and celebrating the fairer sex in song.
But just as importantly, Small Town Family Dream, recorded in Denton and released, like the first two albums, on Abbott’s own Pretty Damn Tough label, is also an ode to the music of Texas — a rich legacy that has spawned not only populist icons like Willie Nelson, George Strait, and Abbott’s college hero Pat Green, but such underground mavericks as Lubbock’s acclaimed Flatlanders and songwriter’s songwriter Terry Allen. Abbott and band actually cover two songs (“FFA” and “Flatland Farmer”) from Allen’s legendary 1979 album, Lubbock on Everything, on Small Town Family Dream, while Green himself guests on Abbott’s own “My Texas.”
“That was a pretty big moment for me,” says Abbott, who has since shared a number of stages with Green. Co-written with Thom Shepherd in Nashville, “My Texas” is Abbott’s unabashed salute to not just Green but all of the Texas country artists that provided the soundtrack to his college days not so long ago. A lot of those artists are still very much still around today, just as the Texas country scene still thrives. “I just thought that it was time to pay homage to the entire reason why I fell in love with Texas country in the first place. I want people to hear ‘My Texas’ and go, ‘Man, I feel like I’m in 1999 again, listening to this song.’”
It’s also his hope that people listening to Small Town Family Dream take note of the impressive, muscular instrumental chops on full display throughout the album. The Josh Abbott Band has undergone a few personnel changes in its short lifespan, but the current lineup — comprised of longtime members Wait (fiddle) and Villanueva (drums) along with lead guitarist Caleb Keeter, bassist James Hertless, and Abbott’s old college friend Davis back in the mix on electric banjo after a few seasons pursuing other interests — has now played hundreds of shows together across Texas and beyond, resulting in what is easily the band’s best sounding recording to date. On ballads like “Touch” and “Dallas Love,” the young players display the polished finesse of seasoned Nashville session pros, but on tracks like the anthemic “Idalou,” the saucy “Hotty Toddy” and especially the aforementioned Terry Allen covers, they sound fit to tear the roof off and go head to head with any other take-no-prisoners roots-rocking band on either the modern Country or Americana scene.
“I really feel like this is the band I’ve always wanted,” Abbott says with matter of fact pride. And it couldn’t come together at a better time, either. Looking back over his career, Abbott recalls one of the first times he ever dared to not only dream out loud, but dream big.
“I did an interview for a Lubbock news station in late 2007, back when we first started hitting the road, and the reporter asked me, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ And I just looked at him and said, ‘I want to be one of the biggest bands in Texas music.’
“Everyone at the time was like, ‘Dude, that was one of the most arrogant things ever — it’s never going to happen,’” Abbott admits with a self-effacing chuckle. “But if you ask any sports team that starts out with rookies where they want to be in five years, if they don’t say ‘winning championships,’ then those are not the kind of guys you want on your team. From day one, my goal was, if I’m going to commit to doing this, then I’m going to do it, and I’m going to be as successful as I possibly can.”
Five years later, right on schedule, he’s close enough to that once seemingly far-fetched goal to reach out and touch it. But not surprisingly, he’s long since raised the stakes.
“The main objective now is to make sure that the bell curve stays in our favor,” Abbott says when asked where he wants his band to be in the next five years. “For me, the goal is for us to be able to not just maintain, but consistently get bigger. I feel like Texas has really done well for us, but I’ll never be satisfied. I’ll never be like, ‘we’ve got Texas locked down,’ because that’s our base and we’ve got to keep growing, but I think our biggest objective right now is to get bigger in markets outside of Texas. That’s why you’ll see our emphasis continue to be on touring the West Coast, along with New Mexico, Denver, Kansas, Nebraska, Chicago, and even going East … I think that’s really important to do.”
And yet, even as he expands his horizons beyond the Lone Star State, Abbott’s independent Texas spirit is stronger than ever. Among his goals “from the get-go,” he says, was for his band to distinguish itself as one of the “most successful independent country bands” of its era. And if there’s a difference between that and what most people consider “megastardom,” well, he’s quite OK with that, because “success” in his book isn’t defined by the all-or-nothing fantasy of platinum-selling records and sold-out arena tours.
“I’m sure that would be fun, and damn right we would enjoy that ride,” Abbott admits. “But if that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean we still can’t sell 100,000-plus records, tour across the country and play to crowds of 500-1,000 a night just like we do in Texas. We want to impact fans that really care about our music and that are willing to drive up to two hours to come and see us play. To me, that’s success, right there.”
And so far, the Josh Abbott Band has achieved that success without having to sign a deal with an outside record label. “We’ve had offers” Abbott explains. “I’m not turning a blind eye to them, but if we ever sign one, it’s going to have to be a really good deal and one that makes sense for us.”
“People who do sign with record labels shouldn’t be crucified,” Abbott continues thoughtfully. “I mean, there’s a real science to it, and I have a lot of admiration for the guys that have made that system work for them. But there really is another way. Being indie right now is working for our band and has worked for many other bands in the past. It’s too soon to know if we’ll sign or if we won’t. For now, we’re happy making music and connecting with our fans.”
Stoney LaRue didn't plan to take six years between studio albums, but there was an awful lot of life and music going on. For one of the icons of the Red Dirt Music movement, it was always about the moment that drove him to his next destination.
"I had a fiddle player and people kept telling me, 'You need to get a band'," recalls the performer/songwriter. "Live at Billy Bob's was like jumping straight into the fire: two weeks after putting the band together, we recorded the album, hit the road and did 250 dates a year. We never looked back."
Not looking back has been an earmark of LaRue's roots hybrid, a sweeping musical narrative that embraces a man's yearning, vulnerability, venality and desire. Though not meant to be a "state of the drifter" album, Velvet weighs the cost of being a man who lives by his own code against the reality it creates for others in his wake.
"I'm a big fan of looking up at night to what's out there– and there are a lot of questions that come along with that," LaRue confesses. "I'd like to think I understand myself – and the world I live in. I'm a father. I'm a husband. I'm a friend. I'm an asshole sometimes – even though I don't wanna be. I'm a seeker. I'm a player. Maybe, too, I'm trying to figure out how to share something with people that will draw them deeper into who they are, the way music does for me.
"Music can heal. It can inspire. I know that much. I don't know if this record will do those things, but I sure hope it might."
After six years and all that living, Velvet marks a new kind of cohesion for the man who's built a career on live performances. Working with award-winning producer Frank Liddell (Miranda Lambert, Chris Knight, Lee Ann Womack) and Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Patty Griffin); Velvet was recorded over three years in Nashville, and finds LaRue melting down the playbook and expectations for everyone involved.
"I met Frank through Enzo, my manager, and we spent some time together – and Frank said, 'I'd like to make a record on you,' and that was three years ago. I didn't really know what that meant, but I liked him, and liked what he said about music..."
Liddell enlisted Glenn Worf on bass, Randy Scruggs on acoustic, Glen Duncan on fiddle, Chad Cromwell and Fred Eltringham on drums, Oran Thornton on guitar and Jim Hoke on accordion, steel and flute. Recognizing the power of cohesion for LaRue's voice, Liddell recorded the sessions with everyone on the floor, letting the musicians bleed into each other's tracks. "It was Frank's genius idea to put us ALL in a room together and FEEL the songs be born."
"Chad Cromwell, who plays drums for Neil Young, said he'd not done anything like this since the '70s. All these session players, who do this for a living, really made me feel like this was something special for them," LaRue explains.In an attempt to draw out the sentiments beneath the surface, Liddell introduced LaRue to several "outsider" songwriters, including Mando Saenz. Saenz was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and has lived in North Carolina, California, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. He understands the reality of being a man always en route to somewhere else, the quest that is life. "There's a real non-pretension to how he writes... He's a poet, and when we start talking about life, it's amazing what comes out.
"I think I had blinders on in a lot of ways, and was surprised what was there when the blinders came off. The more I was seeing about what could go into the songs, the more layers kept being revealed."
Certainly, there is a mystical, cedar'n'sunlight-on-the-dust nature to Velvet. In "The Travelin' Kind," LaRue ponders the reality of those who stay in one place versus those who're born to drift, "The apple don't fall too far from the tree, but the apple never swam in the deep blue sea/ Maybe you're just not a lot like me..."
"When we were writing, I wanted to be honest. I think the delivery behind these songs is important. There's a vulnerability to what you do, and a potential for so much more. Maybe your life is turned upside down, but as a man you can crawl out of it, and as a father, you can take care of your family, try to help find the bigger plan."
Life isn't just about contemplation, though. There's also an edge of lust and danger. As the fiddle-stitched "Sirens" whirls through a brisk core sample of desire and life on the run, LaRue suggests that restless doesn't always mean comfortable. Nor is it the ultimate end game.
"Velvet's silky melody and gentle rhythms show the singer self-aware, recognizing that he's got too many miles behind him to deserve the person he's singing to, and yet... he wants her to touch his soul, to lighten his life, to make him somehow more.
"I've always tried to watch people," he says. "People's eyes are the windows to their soul, and when you look – even from the stage – you can tell how they're doing, what they're getting from us. It makes me want to stay connected and deliver at the same time. When people hear the songs, you can see it on their face. You can see it, too, still rippling when they're done listening to a song or leaving a show. It amazes me, really, how a little positive can undo a lot of negativity. It may not be the cure for cancer but my way of trying to help change the world, my palette has been my music"
Velvet paints a picture of what it means to be free but aware, willing but uncertain – and always, always drawn to the light. "I believe in a lot of things: Trust. Friendship. Smiling. The beauty of it all. And hope. Hope is one of the bigger ones...Somewhere out there, it'll all come together," Stoney LaRue is sure of it – and it echoes on all 10 tracks.
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