A sharp country effort
Reviewed October 2009
Comal County Blue
By Jason Boland and the Stragglers
Apex Music: 2008
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
With five releases since 1999 including "The Bourbon Legend" in 2006, country artists Jason Boland and the Stragglers are not newcomers. They rode Boland's deep, classic country vocals and songwriting to the country charts, and are back with "Comal County Blue."
The sound on this Austin recording is pristine, and top producer Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Uncle Tupelo, many others) not only manages to maximize the impact of each song but contributes acoustic guitar to the tracks.
The sound of the Stillwater, Ok., band recalls traditional Southern country at times but can also rock. The Stragglers are among the chief bands championing a subgenre of music called Red Dirt Music, centered in their hometown. There are elements of Western swing, bluegrass, and honky-tonk, but the thing that makes it go is Boland's commanding voice, a booming update on Waylon Jennings. He also is an ace songwriter.
"Sons and Daughters of Dixie" condemns the Yankees for the Katrina debacle, and makes it clear that this isn't going to be another routine alt-country set, as powerful lyrics are driven home by Boland and the full band in a catchy anthem. Things don't let up: "Down Here on Earth" is equally catchy, a radio-friendly country-rocker with crunchy guitars and airy fiddles. The title song is next, and is a mid-tempo ballad that is yet another highlight, a clear single with an intimate lead vocal.
The rest of the disc is more of the same, with a bit of Tex-Mex ("If It Were Up to Me"), soft folk-rock ("May Not Be Love") and nifty country rock ("Outlaw Band").
The musicianship is first-rate &150; Boland is a great singer, but Roger Ray, on guitar and steel, and Noah Jeffries, on fiddle and mandolin, are young musicians who match him.
"Comal County Blue" is front to back one of the best country discs of the year. Boland is a rare talent and he has a great band, making this a very enjoyable listen and a must for country music fans.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.