Review: Jason Boland & the Stragglers: The Light Saw Me (Proud Souls) – Music


At its core, country music rests on a foundation of relativity, drawing on those tried human emotions of desire and regret, love and despair, and the knot between quiet moments of humility and the noisy bustle of l ‘ambition. It all depends on a red Solo mug.

How, then, could country music cope with the raw and unfamiliar realities of our current barrage of “unprecedented time”? Jason Boland’s 10th LP studio, The light saw me, offers an unexpected answer: a honky-tonk sci-fi concept album that bills itself as one of the most ambitious, bizarre and cheeky endeavors of the year.

The story, winding through 11 tracks, remains loose and not immediately obvious. Apparently, the story follows a 19th century Texan cowboy abducted by aliens and transported to the end of the 20th century, a vanity that is never fully explained.

Yet the story is told in the revealing moments of terror and uncertainty, an existential crisis where the institutions of religion, reason, and government completely fail to make sense of the event, or even actively undermine one. attempt to figure it out. “Have visions of things worth explaining / No answers in religion or law,“confesses the confused narrator on” A Tornado & the Fool “.

Boland has always functioned as an anomaly within the popular Red Dirt scene. The rich baritone accent and catchy melodies of the Okie-turned-Austinite bent their debut in 1999 Pearl Snaps easily into Texas country radio, settling alongside a new generation of young kickers like Kevin Fowler and Pat Green.

Maturity and sobriety brought a resonance and a deeper perspective to the years 2006 The Bourbon legend and 2008 County blue comal (see “Beyond the Bourbon Legend”, Music, April 10, 2009). Boland’s writing unveiled harsh emotions and complex narratives with a smoothness that could still draw the KVET crowd and fill a dance hall. Rancho alto (2011) influenced traditional steel with the production of Lloyd Maines, and Dark and dirty mile (2013) handled a poignant grief.

Boland’s quintet, the Stragglers, however, displayed more adventurous edges in their honky-tonk sound. 2015 To crush tore up an ironic and famous punk turn with “Guess It’s Okay To Be An Asshole” and the twisted closing political screed of “Fuck, Fight, and Rodeo”. 2018 Hard times are relative also managed to squeeze into a tight Ramones inspired rocker with “Dee Dee OD’d”. Boland could still shed a tear with the best, but he got rid of preconceptions, clearly had fun, and asked bigger questions than country music typically does.

So during The light saw me Seems on the surface a scandalous project for the troubadour of Texas, Boland has in fact just rejected all the previous claims and looked deeply into the cosmic questioning towards which he was built. The obvious comparison is with Sturgill Simpson’s metaphysical and gender shifts, but Boland works from a different and more grounded angle.

Recorded in early 2021 with the equally maverick production of Shooter Jennings, the songs grapple with a search for meaning, reversing Hank Williams’ famous hymn of salvation. Throughout, Boland raises questions about the purpose to which we are called, how we face and cope with the unimaginable, and the choices and consequences with which we live.

The album’s metaphors sparkle with a double reality. The arrival of “A Tornado & the Fool” parallels an alien encounter with a natural disaster, and the sweet waltz “Here for You” resonates as both an alien abduction and a deployment to war. However, the thread that sews these hallucinogenic veils is the question asked at the start: “Is the imagination of love made inside the mind? Or is consciousness being projected from another place in time?“reflects on the opening of ‘Terrifying Nature’, in the end”So learn the lesson, love your loved ones now and here / Not knowing what season they might all be gone.

The centerpieces “Transmission In” and “Transmission Out” spin into a different sonic plane with the distortion breakdown and southern boogie groove behind the wacky prophetic poetry spoken like a late-night rogue AM band. Even more surprising is the jazzy funk whip of “Future” which bleeds into the blues whine of “Straight Home”.

As the group swoons in a cover of “Restless Spirits” by Bob Childers, they transport the song to existential redemption, a link to reality through the melody they listen to. What remains is the final realization of “A Place to Stay”, recognizing that we are all lost in the struggle of this strange life together, and only by developing empathy and understanding can we find this greater connection and purpose.

Boland’s grand concept album project may seem too complicated to top his catalog, but it also allows the songwriter to embark on new creative avenues and continue to expand what country music can. to be.

***

About John Crowder

Check Also

Eric Church in 2007 on the lack of emotion in country music: “The downside of the format is that it’s too neat and tidy”

It’s pretty obvious that the country music superstar Eric Church has come a long way …