Been trying to write a review of 30, the latest record from Cody Jinks and his Tonedeaf Hippies, for the better part of half a year. It’s been problematic to do so, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a lot of meat on the bone and I swear every time I’d think I had the dern thing figured out, something else would pop at me. And second, it’s an intensely atmospheric and compelling listen – lush at times, spare at others, somehow haunting and reassuring throughout. Sonically, well, it’s a masterpiece. And sometimes maybe that gets in the way if a fella’s trying to listen close to the lyrics so’s he can go out and tell the world what it all means.
Well, I still don’t have it all figured out. And I still can’t quit listening to 30, either. In the truck. In the barn. At the office. On the back porch in the evening’s blessed repose. I’ve had this record cranked up loud at 6:30 in the morning stopping off at the QuikTrip for coffee on my into a two-hour hurtle through construction and rush hour traffic just to sit in dog and pony show meetings at work. I’ve had it playing softly in the background while I write or read in the deep of the night long after the family is sound asleep. It’s played while I’ve worked my horse, while I’ve wrestled with the dogs, and while ribeyes and shrimp were sizzling to perfection on the fire pit. And you know what? It never once didn’t fit.
30 is simply a mesmerizing collection of songs, steeped in a maturity one no longer expects from a 30-year-old man and delivered with a vocal and instrumental strength like the Mississippi rolling over a sandbank in a storm. I just don’t recall the last time something set me back on my heels and stumped me like this record did, all the while making improvements in every part of my life it intersected. Had known for some time that Cody’s a no-shit storyteller, and that the music chops and cred he and the band bring to the table aren’t to be trifled with. But there just wasn’t a way to anticipate it all coming together like it has here.
Anybody who’s been reviewing music for any extended period of time gets accustomed to two distinct modes of hearing new records. The first is clinical, and that’s usually where you go on the first several listens. How’s it sound? What’s it trying to say? Does it actually ever say anything at all? Is this art, and if yes, is it well done? Is it just more entertainment and fluff? After you listen for a while in that mode, and get a sense of what it is you’ll need to say in a hopefully competent review, then you hop out of inspection mode and give the thing a few spins just to see how you like it as a fan. Somewhere between the two perspectives, generally speaking, a record’s gonna tell you what it’s got at its core. And when that happens, you sit down and you write the review and then you move on.
Cody Jinks just hasn’t been willing to let any of the above work in this case. The songs keep coming alive, the record’s beating heart keeps hopping around, and it’s plumb difficult to figure out how to review something that’ll behave thattaway. Which is sort of why I finally gave up. I’m having way too much fun enjoying 30 to even bother telling you the reasons why you’ll love it if you give it a listen.
So that’s it. I’m not going to get into all the intelligent, witty, truly wise ways that the concepts of grace and redemption and perseverance and love are explored on this record. Just going to tell you that they are, and that they’re approached in the helpful manner of a friend as opposed to the expository blast furnace ramblings of an evangelist. Nothing this didactic has ever been this enjoyable, least in my experience.
What rises to the surface, in the final tally, is a picture of a band comprised of grown men serious about not only their craft but their lives. They’re doing what they love, they truly want to do it forever, and so they are fundamentally hellbent on doing it right. I sat down with Cody over the summer at a roadside joint in Roanoke, TX called the Prairie House. Fitting, as it’s both a dining and cultural institution in this neck of the woods and inspiration for one of the songs on 30. We sat and talked over cold beer and pork chops for a couple of hours, and a lot of things about Jinks’ maturity and approach and humility just jumped out at me. But one stuck in neon in my head. When I asked how life on the road works for this band, given that they regularly tour extensively across the Midwest and beyond, I was hoping to get some sort of pithy soundbite quote about being more than the usual I-35 warriors that terrorize real music fans in Texas. Instead, what I got was this: “It’s all business on the road for us, man. We don’t party. We don’t get crazy. We’ve all done that before. But this is what we do now, this is our life. We’re married with mortgages. Our wives know each other. Our kids know each other. We are a family, and we love and respect our families, and we act like it. We do our job with everything we have in us, and then we come home and enjoy our lives with our families. We know we’re lucky to get to do what we do.”
I knew right then that the record Cody’d handed me wasn’t going to be the norm. But I had no inkling that it would become such a significant portion of my life’s soundtrack through the remainder of 2012. In some ways it’s one of the most intelligent records in recent memory. In others it’s as visceral and raw as a gunfight in a back alley lot. But for every patch of gravel, there’s a ray of sunlight. For every brutal loss, an equally hard fought gain. It’s life, I guess.
And, as Cody and the boys seem to thoroughly understand, even when life’s pretty hard, it’s pretty damned good.
www.codysroadies.com for info, merchandise, and consistently worthwhile blogs from the road
http://www.reverbnation.com/codyjinks to get a sense of some of what you’ll hear.
~ 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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