Red Dirt veteran Jason Boland turns in his most introspective (and rowdy) LP yet.
Country music is the domain of the salt of the earth, the working man, but it is by and large a vehicle of mass acceptance. If you’re not on the radio, you might as well not exist for a large segment of your target audience. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for underground country acts -- in fact they exist by the boatload -- but even there the majority of singers and guitar players toiling on the smaller stages have a mainstream endgame in sight; they’re just working their regional base and building up a grassroots audience on their way to (hopefully) taking over Nashville someday.
Red Dirt cowboy Jason Boland may have once harbored such lofty expectations, but if so he has tempered those dreams dramatically along the way, with new album Squelch not only spurning any question of airplay but almost exulting in its off-the-radar limitations. You can always tell when a country artist has turned his back on the Nashville machine when liberal amounts of profanity begin appearing in his music… granted, it’s become trendy for bro country singers to sneak TV-14 rated language into their Top 40 aspiring songs, but I think we can all agree that “Fight Fuck and Rodeo” is way beyond the pale for any artist with a hope in hell of getting sold in Walmart.
Not that the album as a whole is a tongue-in-cheek party record by any means. Some of Boland’s most plaintive songwriting is manifest on tunes about homesickness (“Do You Love Me Any Less”, which ponders the literal truth of the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder”) or more ambiguous subjects such as “paying out the interest on borrowed time” (“Heartland Bypass”). Boland’s throaty voice makes his lyrics a bit difficult to decipher at times, but its rich timbre give the songs a lived in feel that no clean spoken recitation of the lyrics could possibly convey.
Boland recently spoke with NewsOK about his evolution as a songwriter, and it’s clear that age and maturity have served him far better than any formal study or apprenticeship could have: “You look back on some of the songs you wrote when you were 21, 22 years old, and some of it you're still proud of and some of it you think is ridiculous, and then you keep going through the trials and tribulations of life."
“Squelch” is the term for a knob on citizen band radio (CB) and other two-way radios to eliminate crosstalk and static on a channel that is not receiving a transmission. Clearly by naming his album such, Jason Boland is asserting that not only does country music have a lot of extraneous noise, but that he and his band the Stragglers are gonna be the ones to do something about it. Any messianic tendencies that mission statement may suggest are at once lulled into submission (if not a false sense of security) by the man’s languid croon and the low key, unfussy arrangements of the Stragglers. Not a flashy effort in spite of a few instigating, middle-finger-in-the-air songs, but like a crotchety old neighbor with a lot of stories to tell, Squelch is well worth investing a little time in.