Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Turnpike Troubadours

Wed, November 21, 2012

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$15 Advance - $18 Day of Show

This event is all ages

All seating is general admission. A limited number of table reservations for groups of 4 or more are available for an additional charge by calling The Cotillion at (316) 722-4201.

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Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Music is having a moment. Listeners are crying out for something true––some meaty songs that’ll give us some comfort, even as they cut closer to the bone.

Everyone is finally ready for the gritty, thundering country Jason Boland and the Stragglers have sharpened over almost 20 years’ worth of selling out roomy venues and commanding stages across the nation. And new album Squelch provides the ideal vehicle.

“We’re just trying to make something that we're proud of,” lead songwriter and vocalist Boland says. “If any more people want to take notice of it, they’re welcome.”

Since coming together in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Boland and his tightknit crew have sold more than half a million albums independently and earned a devoted following that’s swelled far beyond the band’s red dirt roots. At a Stragglers show, oil patch roughnecks, hippies, college kids, and intelligentsia all sway side-by-side like a traveling reincarnation of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters in its cosmic cowboy, Willie Nelson heyday.

While the Stragglers draw from rock and folk, make no mistake: they traffic in unfiltered, unfettered honky-tonk, raw and lean. Equal parts subtle, meditative, and snarling, and often wickedly funny, Squelch is a deeply rooted exercise in exhuming beauty by trading smoke and mirrors for what’s real.

“We pay homage, but we don't want to copy or be a throwback act,” Boland says. “All you can do is try to take the music that inspires you and take it further. And make it personal.” If he has felt any pressure to make his “personal” what others have in mind, it doesn’t show. Boland has never constructed an identity or sound for mass or even niche consumption. He is who he is, and he’s all in.

Recorded at Orb Recording Studios in Austin and mixed at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Squelch was produced by Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta, Sleepercar) and marks the band’s eighth time in the studio. Like two previous Stragglers’ albums, debut Pearl Snaps and 2013’s critically acclaimed Dark and Dirty Mile, Squelch was recorded and mixed directly to tape. “It's one thing when you can say, ‘Okay, now, engineer, you do your magic,’” Boland says. “There is no magic when you record and mix to tape. It is what it is. I think it’s a fuller, richer sound. And it’s just more honest.”

Opener “Break 19” thumps brazenly, reveling in bassist Grant Tracy’s heart-pounding walks and punctuated by Nick Worley’s whirling fiddle, Brad Rice’s locomotive drumming, and newest Straggler Cody Angel’s achy pedal steel. There’s not a throwaway line to be found, as Boland’s deep baritone rumbles through a sly takedown of modern media and absolute certainty after copping to trying it all the wrong way first and realizing “the more I see, the less I claim to know.” It’s a fitting introduction to The Stragglers’ signature blend of social consciousness, self-awareness, and swing.

“I Guess It’s Alright” is classic Boland wordplay layered over a breakneck shot of adrenaline. A rollicking sendup of society’s uneven tolerance for bad behavior, the track roars that for those with power, life is open season and consequences are nil. “I guess it’s alright to be an asshole if you’re good,” he pounds over growling guitar. “Fat and Merry” bristles with snark, taking aim at quintessentially American hustle, from suburban flight and gentrification, to waste and nonstop consumption. It’s got to be the only song ever to bemoan “coffee shops and escalades where escalades and cocaine could be found” with a world-weary fiddle echo. “Nobody wants to come off as judgmental, but you have to make judgments,” Boland says. “With your tongue in your cheek is a nice way to do it. None of us are above reproach. We’re all just having a good day or a bad day, same as everybody else.”

“First to Know” is a love song for adults. “If my voice sounds scared and frozen, it’s because I’m afraid and cold / And when I am you’ll always be the first to know,” Boland sings, both as an ode to the one who knows him best and a plea for understanding. It’s also a reminder that sometimes, what you see really is what you get, and while that may occasionally disappoint, ultimately, it’s cause for trust and hope.

Aversion to artifice permeates Squelch in just about every way, from the recording process to the album’s themes to Boland himself. “Lose Early” is a sauntering rendition of dust to dust and a skewering of the lie that you have to sell your soul to eat, while “Do You Love Me Any Less” questions whether or not absence hinders affection. Written by original Stragglers fiddler Dana Hazzard, haunting and heartbreaking “Christmas in Huntsville” is the only track Boland didn’t pen. Images of Christmas at home flood the imprisoned narrator’s mind as he heads to his holiday-timed execution for a murder he didn’t commit. Closer “Fuck, Fight, and Rodeo” kicks out the footlights in a two-minute, hell-in-a-hand-basket hoedown.

Asked why he feels so compelled to focus on lost causes and society’s ills, Boland explains, “Because we’ve talked about the rest of it. It’s almost out of obligation––and it’s an obligation that’s more intense because of the fact that nobody else is talking about it––some rock, rap, Americana, and folk does. But nobody is doing it the way we do it.”

Boland just exited his 30s, but he seems older, based on his experiences. He’s lived through alcoholism, a should-have-killed-him car crash, a ruptured vocal chord, and other trials. He wears his hard-won wisdom easily, without ceremony or conceit, and has evolved naturally as a writer, becoming more and more comfortable with his knack for recognizing the universally significant––even divine––in the ordinary. “Holy Relic Sale” is a stunning example, and one of the songs that makes Boland most proud. “My wife’s got a pair of lucky blue socks,” he says. “One day, we just had an awesome day––everything went right. We got home, and she pulled the socks out of the dresser and said, ‘I thought I had these on all day.’ It’s the classic story of ‘it’s not the things.’ The things are there to remind you to concentrate on the positive facts of life. The little relics that we have are going to wear out or get lost, but the light and the energy are within you.”

On stage, Boland leads a raucous party. Off stage, he’s mellow and warm, often wryly philosophical. But no matter where he is, he’s always grateful. “You play the dimly lit honky tonks of the world and take the music to the people, several at a time,” he says. “Some shows are huge, some shows aren't. You take the good and the bad and you go down the road. And you think, ‘Isn't that what everybody's going for?’ Well no, it's not. But that's what we look back on and always smile about––the shaky ground that we've always been on. The uncertainty of it all.”
Turnpike Troubadours
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.