An acoustic (unplugged) album from Flatland Cavalry is not nearly so surprising as, say, a stripped-down Jason Aldean or Brantley Gilbert project. This Texas outfit isn’t exactly known for cranking up the volume. Nevertheless, the act’s seven-song Far Out West Sessions release is a welcome collection of quieter recordings.
It opens with “Tilt Your Chair Back,” which comes off like a healthier version of Dierks Bentley’s “Tip It On Back.” Instead of tilting an adult beverage or lighting up something smokeable, Flatland Calvary encourages drinking cold iced tea while kicking back in an outside chair at the end of the day. Bentley’s song offers a way to avoid the world’s crushing negativity, while FC is concerned more with focusing on what’s positive in life. The instrumentation on FC’s tune is simple, notable for lots of fiddle, acoustic guitar and mandolin.
While there is a distinct softness to the overall sound of these songs, these lyrics aren’t always sweetness and light. For example, “Dancin’ Around A Fire” flows with a minor key, ominous tone. It begins with dueling acoustic guitars, which foreshadow the struggle that is about to go on in the song. Its lyric is specifically about temptation, and temptation is personified as fire. “Like moths drawn to the moonlight,” as lead singer Cleto Cordero describes it, reveals how infidelity has an undeniably strong drawing power. Cordero doesn’t spend much time describing this feminine object of desire, but instead talks mostly about the whole dance men and women do before ultimately giving in. It hits the listener hard, like a warning shot.
The delightful acoustic picking that underpins “Daydreamer” fits it perfectly, as this is a song about one that surrenders again and again to his daydreams. The protagonist in the song is searching for a daydreamer, just like him. That can be a difficult task, though. Practical people in this world largely outnumber the lazier dreamers. Then again, many of the best musicians are also said daydreamers. These are the ones that fantasize and then transform their fantasies into wonderfully memorable songs. Then again, because opposites attract, perhaps it’s best for these out-to-lunch performers to end up with more serious realists. To balance out the ticket, so to speak.
One of the more notable songs on this release is also one of Flatland Calvary’s better-known songs. “Country Is…” delves into the various contemporary definitions of country. It’s not just about country music, but music is a big part of it. It’s also about what it means to be a country person. Country credibility is a big issue these days in the country music genre. Country bragging rights are as important as a long rap sheet is to a gangsta rapper. Or so it seems. Ironically, though, many of these country identity anthems are sung to music that doesn’t sound much like country music at all. (There’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on there, for sure). Of course, Flatland Calvary doesn’t need to assert their identity at all. Nobody doubts these guys are the real deal.
“Life Without You” closes out this seven-song set with the sad one. It is just what its title summarizes; the story of a man trying to live his life without his true love. It includes a lovely, long fiddle solo that puts a tearful exclamation point on Cordero’s hurtful tale.
Sure, an acoustic Flatland Calvary project is probably not all that necessary, as their regular studio recordings are already filled with plenty of mighty fine country music. Nevertheless, one must never look a gift horse in the mouth. More Flatland Calvary is always better, whether requested or not.