As long as I’ve written about music, and that’s coming up on twenty years now, I’ve always said that genre and style and production and the rest of the side dishes on a given album aren’t what matters. They’re a part of the meal, for certain, and they contribute in the same way that the presentation of a fine Thanksgiving dinner can help carve a timeless memory in your mind. But at Thanksgiving what matters is the grub, and when you’re buying a record what matters is just good music. The best music always comes from a soul poured out on a six-string. Always.
If there’s a better soul on this earth than Robby White’s, I have yet to cross its path. The man’s zest for life, his incessant commitment to choosing happiness amid the storms, the way he loves completely and honestly any and every single person that he loves… those things aren’t common anymore. And where the music’s concerned, Robby’s a guy with all the natural talent in the world who couldn’t care one whit less about whatever the industry deems as success. He lives and breathes honest songs, and they’re what he writes. He did it with a full band on his first few albums, and did a fine job. We reviewed Small Town Outlaw here on the pages of this mag when it came out. It was good stuff. But in retrospect, it still wasn’t fully Robby.
The years after that record, when the band split up and Robby joined forces with North Texas honky tonker extraordinaire Ronny Spears? (RIP, Ronny… we love you and we miss you, amigo) Those were damned good years. The show those two put on was pure dee country. Three or four hours of nonstop bareknuckle honest goodness, from Ervin T. Rouse to Merle to originals Ronny and Robby wrote themselves or collaborated on. That was a live show the likes of which we may never see again, and it’s a tragedy that none of them got professionally recorded.
But even then, it still wasn’t full on Robby White. He was too content to play second fiddle, to be the sideman for Ronny. Understandable, in that Ronny’d done it for decades already and Robby hadn’t. Fair enough. But with Ronny on the stage, Robby also wasn’t going to stand up and be fully counted hisowndamnself.
And while I’d give anything I own to get Ronny Spears back on this mortal coil, even though I’ve gotten deep in the rum listening to his records mourning him and shot holes in my barn in anger that he’s gone… there’s no denying that what Robby has grown into in the wake of that loss is a pure country music blessing.
Sam Colt and Jesus is a profound, meaningful, soul felt record in a time where none of the above are at all required for airplay and in fact might serve to preclude it.
Robby doesn’t care. He’s not out for airplay. He’s out for raw and real.
This record is as stripped down and simple as it gets. Wood and wire. Honesty distilled into beautiful agony. Recognition of today with a yearning for better days. More honest days.
How I long for greener pasture and bigger ponds and more wide open skies
Standing in this concrete breathing dirty air just makes me realize
That I’d be better in a world that had no fences
Or at least had open gates
I won’t ever be ahead of my time
I was born a hundred years too late
If you were a fan of the Red Headed Stranger album, if you liked the way Willie broke that sucker down to its basics and took it to its knees so that it could stand head and shoulders above, you owe it to yourself to give this one a listen. In spirit it may run more closely to Gunfighter Songs and Trail Ballads (see Boomer Castleman’s wonderful “Fort Worth I Love You” at number 6 on the track list, or the title track from Robby’s own pen), but at its heart this thing is simply about taking the best things and making them resonate with a simple and undeniable heartbeat. It’s Robby’s heart beating, but it’s yours and it’s mine, too.
All of us wrestle with demons from the past. Those of us raised in conservative Christian homes sometimes can add family discontent to the roster if we chose to strike out on a path of our own. Robby’s story fits that model a little too well; ask him about it sometime. Or don’t, and instead listen to him sing “I Ain’t Sorry.” It’s a track that gave my own soul a cleansing it needed, and my money says it’ll do the same for yours if you’re living true to the demands of the man or woman in the mirror at day’s end.
I’ve hurt people
And people have hurt me
Beneath the steeple where I hoped You would be
But I guess that ain’t Your style
Lord I know that it ain’t mine
I’d rather ease down to the honky tonk
And turn my dollars into wine
Let the record show I charged into my fate
I always fought the shackles
I always kicked the gate
Some say I’m a free man and others say I’m damned
But I ain’t sorry
I ain’t sorry for being what I am
You made me what I am
There’s not one more damned word or combination thereof I can write here that will expand on or somehow better explain the wisdom and raw truth in those lines you just read. So I won’t try.
I’ll just tell you that this record is full of gems like that, and that it belongs in the collection of anyone who values truth and isn’t afraid of a mirror. This record is what music, distilled to its purest form, is capable of. It’s wood and wire, it’s whiskey and grit, it’s gristle and marrow and bone… and it’s heart and soul flying free above the fray.
Which is the whole point of this life to begin with.
*Photo: Robby White Facebook Page
~ Dave Pilot
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.