A mere 57 seconds into the opening track of the Josh Abbott Band's Shes Like Texas, you're likely to be hooked. One intro, one verse and one chorus are pretty much all that's required to recognize something special in the Texas-based act.
The winding riffs that open "Road Trippin" have a weighty Southern-rock air about them, though the actual instrumentation-fiddler Preston Wait and guitarist Gabe Hanson breeze through the lines in unison-hints faintly at the western-swing heritage deep in their Texas roots. Bass player Daniel Almodova and drummer Edward Villanueva set a powerful, chugging rhythmic foundation that walks the line between commercial country and raw honky tonks.
And Josh Abbott-the founder, lead singer and chief songwriter for the ensemble-evinces a slight Steve Earle character: breathy, fiery, intense.
Those initial sounds set the tone for Shes Like Texas, the sophomore album from the Lonestar State's best-kept secret. The project is deceptively simple in its approach, built around honest songs about real-life emotions with strong harmonies and winsome melodic hooks.
But it's complex in its results. There's a joyfulness in the sonic foundations of "All Of A Sudden," "Brushy Creek" and "If You're Leaving (I'm Coming Too)," an ease in the de-stressing "Hot Water," a philosophical bent in the folksy "End Of A Dirt Road" and a reflective sadness in the closing ballad "Let My Tears Be Still."
There are so many emotions tied into the album that the listener is guaranteed to feel something.
"The most important idea that I write songs with is that they're autobiographical," Abbott says. "Nearly every song I write is a true story of mine, or of someone I know."
That truthfulness breeds passion for the material. And that passion comes through in the performances, both in the recording studio and on stage. It's why the Josh Abbott Band has quickly become a Texas institution, selling out many of its shows in the region-and why its talents can't be confined for long to the Lonestar State.
Texas has its own sound within country, and acts have been able to make a living inside its borders while the rest of the U.S. looked the other way. But the walls that once separated the state's multi-genre sound from country's mainstream dropped for many of its most important acts in the last decade. After more than 15 years as a live Lonestar mainstay, Jack Ingram won the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist award in 2008. The rough-and-tumble Randy Rogers Band claimed a pair of Top 10 country albums, Pat Green picked up a trio of Grammy nominations, and the Eli Young Band broke into country's Top 15 singles chart for the first time in 2009.
"Those guys paid their dues by playing a lot of venues where they probably got paid $500 and a case of beer," Abbott notes. "Texas music wasn't really being played on the radio very much. But now because of the hard work of all those guys, over time, it's become kind of its own genre and now all the stations in Texas and Oklahoma play it, and it's been able to create a whole new environment of music for us."
It was that very environment that bred the Josh Abbott Band in the first place. While studying communications and political science at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Abbott and his Phi Delta Theta comrades frequently partied at the Blue Light Live, a downtown club on Buddy Holly Avenue that's been a linchpin for such hard-scrabble acts as Cross Canadian Ragweed, Wade Bowen and Golden Globe nominee Ryan Bingham.
During one Blue Light visit with a couple of friends around 2004, Abbott saw the Randy Rogers Band for the first time. He would never be the same.
"It was packed," he remembers. "I watched them play and how they moved on the stage, how they sang their songs, and how they connected with the audience. I literally looked at my friend-and this is the story she tells to this day to her friends-and I said, I think I can do that.' She was like, What are you talkin' about ?' I said, I think I can be that guy on stage, singing and writing songs that people connect with. I think that I can do that.' She was like, Well, go do it.' That night or the next day, I started writing country songs."