Country music swashbucklers JASON BOLAND AND THE STRAGGLERS' hard-hitting new live set HIGH IN THE ROCKIES: A LIVE ALBUM is an unconstrained collection of appealingly inventive Red Dirt country. Crackling with the raw outlaw voltage that has made them one of the fastest-rising forces in contemporary country, the resolutely independent Texas-based quintet's execution and delivery is uniformly impressive, and with material divided between Stragglers standards and fan favorites, the album rises to a profound new elevation that is reflected in a most fitting choice of title. Whether reveling in the Okie kickback groove of "Tulsa Time" or re-defining the epic despair of Boland's classic "Bottle By My Bed," their sound, characterized by ebullient musicianship and passionate vocals, links country music's past to its future with admirable expertise.
Constantly reaching out for fresh new sounds and attitudes, rippling with traces of such forebears as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and illuminated by luxurious employ of dobro, fiddle and mandolin, High In The Rockies is a perfect mix of the progressive and the traditional. Released via Boland's own label, Proud Souls Entertainment, in conjunction with the Apex Nashville label and Thirty Tigers distribution, it was recorded on four consecutive nights at January 2010 performances in Colorado and Wyoming, and the band displays authenticity at its most ardent--stubborn, proud, completely unfettered. Throughout, the freewheeling creative promise of the Red Dirt movement never goes unheeded. It has been a hard-earned escalation, one that comes after Boland was sidelined by surgery to remove a polyp from his throat, a chilling incident which led not only Boland, but the entire band--Roger Ray on steel, lead guitar and dobro; fiddler Noah Jeffries; bassist Grant Tracy; and drummer Brad Rice--to confront a potentially devastating turn of events. Typically, they flipped the experience from defeat to victory, instilling a renewed energy and drive which resulted in this extraordinary recording.
"We've got totally a different perspective." Boland said. "That was heavy, a paradigm shift, a sea change. It was the one thing that could park us all. But I look back on it and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It made us all stop and re-evaluate life, the band, touring, but we're back at it hard, with a new, very achievable goal: that the most important thing is we now make music that we truly feel, and I'm thankful for that." As a result, Boland's commanding vocals, at once relaxed yet fraught with tension, pack the lyrics with a depth of forthright veracity, a rich psychic quality that the band's full throttle jams easily match, and the urgency of the Stragglers' innate, road-seasoned dynamism and talent further heightens High In The Rockies' already supercharged atmosphere.
Captured at the peak of the band's renewal, every song is put across with an invigorated emphasis and titles like "Comal County Blue" and "Backslider Blues" resonate with fresh new contours, while the case-hardened tenderness of "Jesus And Ruger" again underscores Boland's mastery as lyricist and interpreter. That skill has served him well for the better part of a decade, a steady ascension that finds the band today averaging over 200 shows a year, and with album sales exceeding 200,000, Jason Boland and the Stragglers represent a singular, self-propelled country phenomenon. "It was time for a live album, and also to get a photograph of the five of us now," Boland said. "I'm really happy with the material we chose. It stems from The Bourbon Legend and Comal County Blue and we went back and mined a couple of our older songs, and songs like Merle Haggard's ‘Rainbow Stew' and Tom Russell's ‘Gallo Del Cielo,' that fans kept requesting and never let die."
Whether questioning life's ironies or examining his own restless discontent, Boland's involvement and conviction gleams with the undeniable capability of a natural born honky-tonk communicator. Loaded with banging drama, wry observations and soul-deep expression, High In The Rockies documents an extraordinary transformative period for the band and continues the fulfillment of Jason Boland and the Stragglers' extraordinary promise. "We got over being young and the entrapment of limitations on your instrument, vocals, writing--and the entrapments of life, love, chemicals." Boland said. "I've reached the point where I don't over-think it and simply do the music honestly. I don't care about fame or the pop culture machine--you'll never see us on ‘Nashville Star' or ‘American Idol.' We look to the populist grassroots, we're not in it for fame and cash. Seriously, it's all about living free."