ROUTES & BRANCHES
it's our kind of music
October 1, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
It takes great talent to make a record that sounds like this much of a lovely mess. My hope for Texas Gentlemen is that the grooves get deeper, the rhythmic u-turns weirder and the in-jokes less appropriate. The playing on TX Jelly isn’t sloppy in the least. Rather, it’s the production that colors so satisfyingly outside the lines, like a mutant strain of garage country-soul.
It must be said that TX Jelly’s opener, “Habbie Doobie” is one of the year’s most sticky jams. It’s essentially an instrumental, enhanced with some extraneous dialog and occasional moments of drunken group-sing. I’m certain that the recording wasn’t preceded by a lot of rehearsal, that “Habbie Doobie” is simply a “lightning-in-a-half-empty-bottle” moment generated by a cohort of crack musicians who have worked alongside one another for several years. Indeed, the core Gentlemen have played behind a remarkable diversity of artists, from Leon Bridges to Joe Ely and Kris Kristofferson.
The song sets the stage for what follows, a smattering of half-finished ideas, tossed off tunes and moments of fleeting brilliance that make TX Jelly a genuinely happy-making CD. “Pain” is a joyful boogie that promises a whole lot of pain in your life. The ensemble rarely plays it straight, so there are musical detours and curious choices in even the most standard song. On “Pain”, it comes in the form of a little vocal vamp that is filtered through a watery production. That psychedelic effect comes through most strongly on the lounge-y “Superstition”, which comes across like a Harry Nilsson LP riding a slightly wonky turntable: Do you believe in things that go hump in the night / When you’re alone in Tennessee / And you haven’t realized yet. The title track seems inspired by an effort to “get the drummer some”, laying down a heavy snare riff enhanced with a variety of noises, organic and otherwise.
Texas Gentlemen are always good fun, but their debut isn’t simply a throwaway lark. “Bondurant Women” holds its ground as the album’s most complete cut, a swampy, soulful throwback with some fine vocals and hooky percussion. Vocals are generously shared throughout the collection, including a couple takes from Paul Cauthen on songs like “Gone”. The band’s garage-a-licious run through “Shakin’ All Over” almost rivals the opener for its retro splendor.
Apart from “Doobie”, the collection’s most startling revelation comes in the form of Tool, TX’s own Dan Dyer. Dyer dabbles in acoustic and bass here and there, and assumes iconically laconic lead vocal duties on a pair of country weepers. Foremost among these is the saaaad “Pretty Flowers”: These are not for you, my happy memories / These are not for you, my future plans. Dyer half sings and half talks atop a dusty shuffle and an otherworldly choir of Jordanaires. Think Charlie Rich, by way of Bobby Bare Jr.
TX Jelly is not one single record. It is a mixtape, harvesting the bounty of three, maybe four LPs you discovered at a sidestreet thrift store. In a time where our kind of music is fighting for acknowledgement, doing all it can to be taken more seriously by more listeners, Texas Gentlemen offer us a moment of refreshing irresponsibility.
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single (LAT, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Can't Stop Shakin'" Rule 62 (Six Shooter, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Hunting For Sugar" Undivided Heart & Soul (New West, 17)
- Americans, "Hooky" I'll Be Yours (Loose, 17)
^ Texas Gentlemen, "Pretty Flowers" TX Jelly (New West, 17)
- Paul Cauthen, "Saddle" My Gospel (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Dori Freeman, "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight" Letters Never Read (Dori, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Big Leagues" Last of the True (Normaltown, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Leaving the Barren Ground" Joseph Childress (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Hallelujah Anyhow (Merge, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Blue World" Small Believer (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow (Six Shooter, 17) D
- Fernando Viciconte, "Drunkard's Lament" Widows (Domingo, 17) D
- Travis Meadows, "Pray For Jungleland" First Cigarette (Blaster, 17) D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Sunday Morning Papers" Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier, 17)
- Bash + Pop w/Nicole Atkins, "Too Late" single (Fat Possum, 17) D
- Eilen Jewell, "You Know My Love" Down Hearted Blues (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "Minstrel Boy" Wildflower Blues (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Whitey Morgan, "Hard Scratch Pride" Whitey Morgan & the 78s (Bloodshot, 10)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere (Sweetworld, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Jesse Joe's Cigarettes" Whiskeytown Crier (Blue Slate, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sweet Old World" This Sweet Old World (Hwy 20, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Water Street" In the Kingdom of Dreams (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "It's a Shame" single (Columbia, 17) D
- Hang Rounders, "Wyoming" Outta Beer Outta Here (H'Rounders, 17) C, D
- Dan Dyer, "Cowboys in Nashville" Feast of Light (Dyer, 17) D
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Shit Got Dark" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You (Cornelius Chapel, 17) D
- Bottle Rockets, "Better Than Broken" Zoysia (Bloodshot, 06)
- J Roddy Walston, "Bad Habits" Destroyers of the Soft Life (ATO, 17)
- Romantica, "Lonely Star" Shadowlands (Last Chance, 17)