August, 2007 was a turning point in the history of country music. Maybe you didn’t notice, and that’d just make you like most other folks around. But mark the date and check back in a couple of decades. Because in the fading light of a tumultuous year, real music made one helluva stand. If you’ve had an ear to the ground in outlaw territory, you’ve long since heard of Jackson Taylor. Maybe you own one of the six studio albums that preceded Dark Days, or maybe you’ve got the live record or the hits compilation titled, aptly, Outlaw. Maybe not. But either way, your next CD purchase should be made at www.jacksontaylorband.com.
Don’t take my word for it. Don’t buy the record on the strength of the debut single, “Lonely,” blazing its way up the Texas music charts. Fuck all that. Buy this record because it’s the second coming of Waylon Jennings, only this time he’s been reincarnated as Mike Ness on a whiskey-fueled chupacabra hunt out on the Texas plains. It’s honky-tonk time again, it’s country when country decidedly isn’t cool, and it’s as fresh and sparkling as the Hill Country dew. Released by Smith Entertainment Group, the same folks who gave us the Live at Billy Bob’s series, Dark Days picks up where The Whiskey Sessions left off and takes us right into the heart of Jackson Taylor’s life. The autobiographical opener, “Outlaws Ain’t Wanted Anymore,” gets right to the point:
I went on up there to Nashville
I’s tearin’ it up in them Broadway bars
Some fat man on Music Row told me
Hey boy, we ain’t feelin’ what you are
He said outlaws ain’t wanted round here
Your whiskey drinkin’ deep thinkin’
Ain’t sellin’ this year
So tear down the posters
Give back the rewards
Outlaws ain’t wanted anymore
The track of course follows the rest of Taylor’s trek as Music City faded in the rearview, from the line-dancing meccas in California on through ‘a few minor altercations’ in Texas. What it leaves out is that back in the Lone Star state Taylor found himself and his roots. Struck up a friendship with Billy Joe Shaver that’s turned into one of the very few mutual admiration societies around with genuine roots to it. Certainly doesn’t tell anyone that maybe the greatest outlaw of ’em all, David Allan Coe, has become a fan. But it’s never been Jackson’s way to brag. He’d rather recognize that outlaws aren’t wanted anymore, let you know he knows it, and then proceed to be the best goddamned one on the planet this century. You figure it out on your own, or don’t. Jackson and the boys will be off playing another gig. And anybody listening will find comfort and courage, whether in bottles of whiskey or the neon smoke delivering the music straight to their souls. “Lonely” proves this point exceptionally well; it’s the bracing sort of acknowledgment of pain and loss that reminds us to brush up and pull together without sounding maudlin. Goes back to that brutal honesty thing that Taylor’s so good at. Consider these lines from “Drinking Alone”…
Empty bottles lie like corpses all along the floor
So much like me, not wanted anymore
‘Cause I am just a ghost who won’t give up his bones
Just stinkin’ in the corner drinkin’ alone
Been there? Most of us have. Found a way out? Not by yourself, you damn sure didn’t. So maybe it’s fitting that the next track, ‘”Outlaw Women,” pays homage to the women who’ve loved and lost and fought on. They’re raising their kids, they’re living their lives, and they’re more beautiful now in a substantial way than they were at twenty-one and wet behind the, um, ears.
Dark Days is a honky-tonk sermon, on every level, without the condescending nature that comes with most preaching. Rather, as the track list progresses, it’s clear this whole record is an observation on the layers and levels of life that make it good even when it’s mighty damned bad. In contrast to the introspection in the aforementioned tracks, “Miles” recognizes the singer’s loneliness out on the road, but its goal is to point out the hurt of the woman at home and promise her that it’s all going to be okay:
And I hope these dreams are worth the price we pay
And I hope it’s not a lifelong mistake
Yeah and mile after mile
Road after road
And day after day and night after night
I’m leaving you alone
And baby I know
I’m losing you
But these miles that take me away
Bring me back home too
There’s the secret Waylon learned when he met Jessi and became more than he’d been before. It’s possible to mix the passion with, well, another one. And in that resulting mix, with all its ups and downs, there’s a love and a satisfaction that wouldn’t have been possible alone. But then again, as the title track makes plain, sometimes you also have to cut bait and move:
So bring on them dark days, baby
And bring on the dark nights, too
I ain’t afraid of the Devil
Hell, I sure ain’t afraid of losing you
Hubris? No. Just the sense of self and security that comes with being a man doing what you’re born to do. And it’s increasingly clear as Jackson Taylor’s career progresses that that’s exactly who and what he is. Anyone can be a honky-tonk denizen. Takes a man, though, to be a honky-tonk hero, at least the genuine kind. The sort of man who can write a haunting, beautiful requiem for a love lost and title it “Morphine,” after the drug that was harder than any old flame to extinguish. Honky-tonk hero, indeed. Jackson Taylor may wind up the king of all of’em before he’s done.
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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.
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