Highly competent, widely varied, intriguingly nuanced stone cold country and Texas border music from the heart of Richmond, VA? Come again? This makes no sense. The geography’s all wrong. But the songs are just right. So maybe it does make sense. Somehow. Hell, just turn it up. Pop a top and figure it out later. Or let it come of its own accord, as the case may be, because, son, it surely will.
What we’ve got here is the sophomore release from Andy Vaughan and the Driveline. Unless you lived in North Carolina back around the turn of the century and were one of the twelve or so people who ever fell in love with Hobart Willis and the Back Forty, you’ve really never heard anything quite like this. If maybe not quite album of the year material, it’s still some of the coolest stuff you’re ever going to hear. Stick around for a sec, I’ll get up on a high horse and tell you why.
For starters, Vaughan and company understand traditional country music and the way it resonates down deep in the bones. I mean they inherently feel it in their marrow. Not just the form and meter and rhyme, although those are fine. Not the steel guitar crying in the night, even though it surely does so here in ways that would break the coldest senorita’s heart. No, there’s something else going on with the Driveline. And while it’s not entirely clear from this second outing whether they’ll ever quite find the song they’re searching for, there’s no question that most of the ones they’ve run across thus far are standout keepers.
You can eyeball a track like “I Don’t Care” as the time honored Exhibit A. Leads off with a trumpet followed by an accordion riff from the deified hands of Slim Stanton that’ll have you swearing on your Corona Light that you’re in a border town with some muchachos muy malo. Of course said muchachos will laugh at you for drinking Corona Light, but that’s another story. Regardless, this comes across as the real thing. That squeezebox sticks around throughout the song and sets a mariachi tone that isn’t gonna be denied. Hell, the trumpet hangs around, too. The first few times through the accompaniment can talk you into missing the heartbroke and lovelorn lyric if you’re not careful about how you pay attention. S’ok, though. You can always hit repeat and cue it up again. And you will.
After your little lesson in just how much it turns out Richmond knows about enchiladas and such, it’s Bakersfield time with “Caught On the Fence.” Easy to hum along with this one just convinced as all get out you’re listening to a cover from old Buck or somesuch. But nope. It’s pure dee original, the real thing, served straight up and brutally beautiful. Same goes for “Swing That Hammer Down,” long as you substitute for Bob Wills for Buck Owens and come prepared to get your Cowtown on. It’s a gem for the dosey doe set and would absolutely fit in wafting across the bricks of Exchange St. on a Saturday night in Texas.
But it’s perhaps on the title cut where the rubber meets the road. This one’s got flavors from some of the greats, but it’s original sounding in the end and genuinely autobiographical as hell. Lays out the ins and outs and vagaries and mysteries and heartbreaks and joys of doggedly pursuing the Muse. How one gets sucked into writing for one crowd, wakes up, tries writing for another. Goes a different route, and then, one day, like Saul on the road to Damascus, sees the light and begins writing for oneself. It’s an interesting take on what’s becoming a bit of a threadbare topic, and it’s genuinely worth the listen.
There are surprises on Searching For The Song, including the toe tapping and goofily invigorating “Giggle And A Wiggle,” a throwaway bar tune that’ll have you singing out loud in traffic for at least a week after you first hear it. Funny, engaging, easy charm… these are qualities that too often get lost in the scuffle between mainstream country’s calculated tugs on the heartstrings and the independent artist world’s ardent fight to be relevant and mature. It’s not the best song you’ll ever hear. Doesn’t for a second pretend to be. But it’s, well, it’s just damned cool.
On the flip side, when Vaughan and the boys get serious, they go full out in a manner that could be construed as a bit over the top and maudlin in a Rawhide or Bonanza sense. It’s a cut called “I Believe In Cowboys,” and it’s overflowing with the nostalgia inherent in that opening scene from The Andy Griffith Show where Andy and Opie are walking to the fishing hole. Or those scenes in The Big Valley where the boys are thundering across the prairie and Barbara Stanwyck is smiling with the sort of majestic beauty one rarely sees anymore. It’s got all of that, cheese factor included, and yet… there’s a substance underlying all of it that gets at the heart of the myriad ways our modern world no longer reveres the man who will stand against the odds. There’s an unexpected power here, an evocative translation of timeless truths that this age we inhabit could stand to relearn and then cherish once again.
Top to bottom, a genuinely engaging and entertaining and enjoyable record. No sophomore slump in sight. Perhaps Vaughan and company continue to search for the song. Thankfully they’re sharing the ones they find along the way. What’s here plays in effect like a live set, the way the night would go if they were in your town helping sell your favorite venue’s beer. But it’s not mere entertainment. There’s something material in the curves, and the promise inherent in these songs is nowhere near as fleeting as the lies a Wonderbra can tell in a haze of neon and smoke. Pull the cover off Searching For The Song and you don’t wind up disappointed, boys. It delivers even more than you thought.
~ 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.
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