Jason Boland & The Stragglers have forged a career in Texas and Oklahoma that has lead the band to be one of Texas Music/Red Dirt’s most well-known artists. They don’t play hillbilly rock but rather a fiddle and steel guitar drenched brand of country music that often recalls the late, great Waylon Jennings. After brief stints on labels like Smith Music and Sustain Records, the band has partnered up with Apex Records Nashville and Thirty Tigers to distribute their latest album, “Comal County Blue.”
“Sons and Daughters of Dixie” leads off the record and it immediately speaks to the strength of those who’ve endured, seemingly time and time again, natural disasters to make their communities that much better and stronger because of it, in spite of not receiving the help they should’ve gotten from the government. “Down Here On Earth” recalls mainstream country music in some ways and for that reason alone the song might be able to break the band to mainstream audiences (even though the Stragglers seemingly don’t care about such things).
The title track tells the story of a man who stays in his small hometown long after others have left but he simply says that he can ‘be fine wherever he is,’ something I completely relate to as someone who’s been comfortable living all over the world. It’s a song that’s multi-layered and subdued at the same time. It’s a fine example of the expert song craft that Boland has often had but sometimes executed poorly before now. “Bottle By My Bed” tells a story of a man who becomes addicted to alcohol only to find redemption, and a good 12 step program, through the help of God. Anyone who has overcome addiction will be able to relate to the song just like anyone who’s supported an addict recover will. It’s a truly powerful song that features a compelling lyric, vocal delivery and strong melodic performances by the Stragglers.
Robert Earl Keen joins Boland and the Stragglers for “The Party’s Not Over,” a song that finds the recovering Boland still able to sing a party anthem despite his sobriety. Fans of Cross Canadian Ragweed should be familiar with “Alright,” a decade-old song previously recorded by the band. While the song was more of a rocker in the hands of CCR, it’s really at home in the hands of Boland and the Stragglers. It shimmers like an unearthed diamond while “God Is Mad At Me” finds Boland collaborating with the great Jackson Taylor to pen a song about a guy who feels a bit conflicted in who he should be worshipping.
The record closes with the late Bob Childers’ “Outlaw Band.” Childers is one of Boland’s heroes and he loves to feature Childers’ songs on his records and does so here. The band performances sparkle here as Boland sings the truly great lyric. And that’s what sets “Comal County Blue” apart from much of the stuff released by music row these days; it is a complete work by a complete band at the top of their game. “Comal County Blue” is a stunning album that is worthy of being in anyone’s collection, digital or otherwise.