Music

Jason Boland & the Stragglers Offer Up Straight Roots Country on 'Hard Times Are Relative'

Photo: Cameron L. Gott Photography / Courtesy of All Eyes Media

Endowed with poignant red-dirt storytelling and ace musicality, Jason Boland & the Stragglers offer up unequivocal country music on Hard Times Are Relative.

Hard Times Are Relative
Jason Boland & the Stragglers

Proud Souls Entertainment

18 May 2018

Jason Boland & the Stragglers formed nearly 20 years ago and have maintained their position as cardinal country musicians. Throughout their illustrative career, the band have produced down-home country albums conjuring imagery and inspiration from their native Oklahoma. Their recent endeavor, Hard Times Are Relative, is no exception. Their ninth studio album is a stellar contribution to 2018's country music scene and worthy of gravitas. Endowed with poignant red-dirt storytelling and ace musicality, Jason Boland & the Stragglers offer unequivocal country music.

Hard Times Are Relative consists of sweeping personal narratives evoking loss, heartache, and newfound resilience. For the album's duration, Jason Boland & the Stragglers offer a comparative range of hard times. In "Predestined", lead vocalist Jason Boland croons, "Pain, my friend, is just your body talking/telling you to slow down for a while." Likewise, the track "Hard Times Are Relative" features siblings struggling to survive after their parents' death. The song's narrative laments they "get by on a garden / And whatever we can kill / Darlene is all alone... / She's seven years my younger / And I'm only seventeen." The storytelling is reminiscent of Dolly Parton's ruminations of her youth and family.

But the title track is not a knock-off of classic country tropes. Rather, "Hard Times Are Relative" proves Boland is a smart and engaging storyteller. Only after repeated listens did I realize I misunderstood the song's narrative. Darlene, the younger sister, is not a victim of circumstance. She saves her older brother's life and is an adept hunter. The track concludes with the siblings "stopp[ing] to dress the ten point buck / She had shot along the way." With the song's first-person narrative conveyed by Boland's tenor, it's easy to transfer androcentrism onto the lyrics. Assuming the brother is the victor and Darlene is a passive onlooker is wrong. I was so wrong. Actually, in writing this, there is no evidence to suggest the narrator is her brother at all! Darlene's self-reliance endows the song with a feminist vibe so apparent, I am embarrassed I succumbed to gender norms.

Jason Boland & the Stragglers balance snark and celebration. "Dee Dee OD'ed" starts by critiquing EDM. The lyrics pointedly question whether tech support counts "as a valid claim to fame". However, the commentary is a misdirection as the track is a tribute to the Ramones. In addition to the title's focus on Dee Dee's death, Joey's, Johnny's, and Tommy's passing is lyrically expressed when Boland sings the "three of them died of cancer". The track's alliterative title audibly reiterates the thump of Dee Dee's bass echoed by Boland's electric guitar. Furthermore, the song pays homage to "Glad to See you Go" when Boland sings "go, go-go-go". Here Jason Boland & the Stragglers reminds that their musical influences are wider than just classic country. We could go without the dig to EDM but everyone is entitled to their opinions.

Musically the album is upbeat, but the instrumentation often contrasts with the lyrics' overt sense of melancholy. For example, "Right Where I Began" brandishes Nick Worley's rampageous fiddle. Yet the lyrics exhibit the song's narrator fueling his sadness with "Jack Daniels by the handle / My best buds in the can / Some wild ass turkey sitting next to me / Talking about the plan." The contrast between the song's music and lyrics works. Here Jason Boland & the Stragglers pull from classic country's tendency to encourage dancing to unapologetic sadness. This dichotomy is country music's foundation and central to Hard Times Are Relative.

The Stragglers are given opportunity to show off their musical aptitude. "Searching for You", for example, is elementary in its lyrical construction but the track makes up for it with magnificent solos from Worley and Cody Angel's pedal steel guitar. Worley's mandolin is on show in the album's opening track "I Don't Deserve You". "Going Going Gone" flaunts a twangy guitar that underscores the fervent fiddle then forms a musical triumvirate with Brad Rice's steady drumbeat. The last sound on "Going Going Gone" is a slide guitar's held phrase that lengthens the track's strong instrumentation. Throughout the album, musical nuance is generated with the addition of a Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond organ, accordion, and banjo.

There's no flash or pomp to Hard Times Are Relative. This is straight roots country. Yet Jason Boland & the Stragglers' style is more complicated than a collected bewailing of lost loves and challenges to emotional fortitude. Hard Times are Relative delivers the energy of the honky-tonk accentuated with the stories passed down from iconoclastic country music outlaws.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.