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.