We’re firing up the wayback machine a bit for this one. Nine years ago, yonder back in 2004, a Nevada based fella named Seth Turner released a record. He and his band, The High Desert Drifters, had (and still have) a strong predilection for authentic country music. Given their location and preponderance of gigs in Vegas, as one might anticipate, the authenticity tended toward the halcyon days of that early ‘90s New Traditional movement. You remember, right? When Alan Jackson and Randy Travis were on top of their game and the industry machine had not yet knocked the mud and horseshit off the boots Garth Brooks and Clint Black used to wear? Those were good days. Country was making a resurgence on merit and substance, even if sometimes Telecasters had replaced a pedal steel or a Hammond B3. But there was still plenty of those latter instruments to go around, and from songs like “Nobody’s Home” to “Old Country” the point got driven home in old dancehalls and beer joints coast to coast on a nightly basis. We’re talking here about that brief and glorious period in time before Tracy Lawrence got rung up on wife beating charges and Ty Herndon exposed himself to a Fort Worth officer before adding drug charges to the docket. Before flame shirts became the rage, before Garth played Superman shouting Billy Joel songs and flying around on cables suspended from the Texas Stadium roof.
When Rocky Mountain jeans were still the order of the day, and made just about every woman who wore them look mighty, mighty good.
In other words, before real country died again.
If you remember those days, if you still find yourself now and again in the truck or the shower singing “Alabama Clay” or maybe “Thank The Cowboy For The Ride,” then you get it. If you don’t, do yourself a favor and put the internet to good use for a little bit. Because when Garth was still the new kid on the block, he had it right. Clint did, too. And Chris LeDoux, God bless him, just never did have it wrong as best I can tell.
Seth Turner can give you pieces of every one of those guys, and has been doing just that since Another Day In My Life dropped in 2004. He’s got one of the best performance bands you’ll encounter, and is possessed himself of as malleable, powerful, and poignant a vocal as you’ll ever find anywhere. What’s odd is that that early in his career Turner had a handle on the thing. Again, think Vegas. You’re a dyed in the wool fan of traditional stone cold country. But the casinos are booking your band. Those crowds want to hear songs they know. In 2004, that meant Tim McGraw singing “Live Like You Were Dying” and Kenny ‘Turtleboy’ Chesney teaming up with Uncle Kracker on “When The Sun Goes Down.” Country as the Empire State Building, that’s what those songs and those entertainers were/are. Yet in that milieu, Turner and the High Desert Drifters were building a viable career on the strength of energy-riddled live performances and timeless songs grounded in the principles of endless love and unfathomable loss.
You’re hearing about this now for two reasons. One, Seth just crossed my path last year. Halfway through the first song he ever sent me, “Goodbye Chris,” it was obvious he was a legitimate artist deserving of a very long look. That ode to LeDoux and what he meant to Turner personally as well as what he meant to so many of the rest of us is an absolute gem. The second reason is that by way of introducing Seth and the Drifters we want to make you aware that there’s new music coming. We’ve heard some of it, and it’s up there in drool-inducing territory. So instead of springing him on you as some new artist wet behind the ears and hitting the sock hop for his first time, we figured we’d give you some backstory.
There’s plenty where this record is concerned, and if you’re of a mind, you can still buy the thing from Turner himself. It’s one of the rare albums we deem equally suitable for tack room and back porch. Here’s the scoop. The track list kicks off with an utterly average song (“Tied One On A Little Too Tight) that would’ve easily been lost on the radio somewhere between an early Toby Keith tune and maybe one of David Lee Murphy’s sawdust anthems. It is danceable as all get out, a nice compromise between a friendly jitterbug and the lusty two-steppers that come later in the neon night. Forgettable as hell, but something that if you were in your 20s in 2004 you’d still love to dance to and likely have fond memories of. However, that hot mess is quickly followed by an absolute showstopper. The third track here is titled, simply, “The Waltz.” It’s a marriage between early Garth and early Strait, and it’s jaw droppingly gorgeous. It’s also the sort of song that, had radio not been lost in a Keith Urban haze, had number one for 30-plus weeks written all over it.
She said he never took me dancing
He said she would never go
They both missed the romancing
Just how much they didn’t know
And when he told her his story
She said it’s about time
It’s so perfectly clear
The man standing here
Has a heart just like mine
So he took her dancing
A night on the town
A couple long glances
They knew what they’d found
It took one good woman
To forget where he’d been
A Tennessee waltz
They felt their hearts fall
All over again
That’s pure country essence, genius in its simplicity. The sort of lyric which admittedly could be cheesy in the hands of some of those ‘90s pseudo-legends, but which would have sparked ballroom romances from Houston to Amarillo in the hands of King George. Turner’s voice has that sort of authenticity, full of nuance and longing and trepidacious hope. Turner might not be Strait, but he can walk the same halls and proves it here with the sort of understated power that made George the king to begin with.
And that’s where Another Day In My Life begins to get damned intriguing. This isn’t throwaway music for casino crowds lost in the haze of believing that what happens in Vegas stays there. Rather, it’s a set list intended to entice that audience to the dance floor while giving them something that’ll definitely follow them home. Hell, “Hot Sands, Pina Coladas and Caribbean Beer” would’ve served Mike McClure and the Great Divide just fine as a substitute for their hit “Pour Me A Vacation” in 1998. The same stuff the Texas kids were dancing to on their way to some of the Divide’s more substantive tunes was playing in Vegas in ’04. If the Red Dirt stuff (before it got bastardized all to hell) doesn’t float your boat, that’s fine; try these lines from the album’s title track:
It’s hard to know just what you’ll do
When it seems life’s conquered you
Lord knows I’ve seen my share
But I’m never beyond repair
So I will live as best I can
And strive to be a better man
No matter what life has in store
I’ll always come back for more
I pull my boots up one at a time
I button my shirt down at the bottom
Then go up the line
I grab my coffee and go to work
Hoping traffic will make good time
No matter what happened yesterday
This is another day in my life
Again, the sort of lyric that in the wrong hands from some of the ‘90s clowns you’d laugh off as trite and worthless. Justifiably so. But check yourself here. Think back to one of those musicians noted above whose early stuff was solid country gold. Clint Black, and that unbelievably stout Killin’ Time record. Remember how Clint delivered “Nothing’s News”? Remember the undeniable failure to quit coupled with an overriding sense of defeat that coursed through that song? Yeah. Now take Turner’s song above, and couple that failure to quit with a ragged, wore-out, beat to hell and still heartfelt optimism. That’s “Another Day In My Life” in a nutshell. That same steel guitar is omnipresent, but in Turner’s take it signals a charge instead of a retreat. In Seth’s version of the cowboy world, there’s plenty of loss but there’s no surrender.
I wonder, in retrospect, if we’d had a Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters on the radio instead of a Clint Black, would the New Traditional movement have died under the inbred weight of a McGraw and a Chesney? It’s like trying to compare Auerbach’s Celtics to Phil Jackson’s version of Michael and the Jordanaires, I know. But one wonders. Defeatism by definition has a shelf life.
Gimlet-eyed taunts at the worst this world can offer maybe don’t necessarily find themselves doomed to the same confined fate.
Regardless of what might have been (yes, in this ‘90s-riddled review, that *is* a Little Texas reference), the fact is, Seth Turner is still here. He’s making a Texas swing in June, and given both the substance of his now almost a decade old work and the new songs he’s penning, I expect he’ll find a fan base more than ready to welcome him into their pickup trucks and tack rooms and hay barns and, yes, even onto their back porches where the tea and the whiskey and the cigars and the happiness run rampant and boundless under a Comanche moon.
Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters. As material an unknown talent as you’re going to find in this life. My suggestion? Be one of the cool kids and educate thineownself. This guy has it figured out. Has the voice and the soul and the band to deliver it. And it is all substantially more than worth your time.
And while you’re online anyway, go to ReverbNation and listen to “Goodbye Chris.” If it doesn’t get you looking for a halter and a round pen, hell, I quit. Well, not really. But you should. Because it’s one of many reasons why Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters play the National Finals Rodeo every year. And if you don’t understand that, son, well … we ain’t friends.
~ 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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