Six Market Blvd was born on the campus of Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas. Tarleton’s an interesting school, to say the least. The party stories over the past two decades are the stuff of legend. Stephenville’s situated southwest of Fort Worth, and the surrounding areas are the epitome of cowboy country. Some of the world’s foremost rodeo performers and bull riders make the town their home, and the impressive spreads and ranches lining US 281 south of the city are jaw dropping gorgeous in the spring. Agriculture’s the thing, and Erath County, where Stephenville sits, is the leading milk producing county in Texas. Heady stuff for a state built on the cattle business. And all of that heritage and culture tends to congregate at Tarleton, sort of a Texas A&M lite if you will in terms of student body size but no different whatsoever in terms of the percentage of students who know their way around a ranch or a farm. The cowboy and country way of life run deep there.
So it’s a bit surprising given that backdrop to hear what leaps out of the speakers when one pops Six Market Blvd’s second CD, Shake It Down, in the player. Between the Stephenville cultural milieu and the pervasive Red Dirt Retread Bullshit copycats all over Texas radio, it just seems a no-brainer that a bunch of young guys coming out of Tarleton as a band would be chasing Pat Green’s ghost across a vapid and repetitive musical landscape. But that’s not how the hand plays out. Not at all.
The opening riffs of “Say It,” the album’s first track, seem to indicate it’s just another Texas country record. But fairly quickly they evolve into a much more jagged and throaty growl evocative of the best of chicken-fried Southern rock. Then Clayton Landua’s ringing, crystalline lead vocal kicks in and the listener is caught in a storm of juxtaposed sounds that shouldn’t work but somehow thoroughly do. It’s a musical gumbo one might expect if Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, and maybe Slash got simmered in a pot for a couple of days. Odd, but invigorating. The lyric is aggressive yet haunted, a tale of love on the brink and that point where one has to stand up and demand that the partner take a stand or shove off for other destinations.
Cause I’ve been spinning my wheels wondering how I can do things right.
And I’ve been strung out on this highway for some time
So think of something cause what I got’s about to pass you by
And there won’t be no one here no more to sit and watch you cry!!
So come on say it
I said say it!
How the demand pans out never gets explained, but the ultimatum’s clear. Visceral stuff, albeit from voices not yet cognizant of the truth that you cannot lose what you do not have. Still, resonant with younger audiences and likely with significant numbers of older listeners as well. Regardless of the love lessons not yet understood, it’s a powerful song and sets an appropriate tone for what follows. Shake It Down is chock full of extremes, often mashed up together, and thoroughly laced with both frightened angst and vibrant optimism.
Not all about young love, though. There are surprising instances of depth and texture here, the sort of thing one doesn’t expect from the young acts. See “Getting Older” as Exhibit A. Written and delivered in the first person perspective of a grandfather nearing the end, it’s an utterly haunted song. Unlike Pat Haney’s “Nursing Home,” whose protagonist reveled in a soul full of life trapped in a body devoid of function, the voice here is fading fast and fully caught up in the act. The instrumentation is chillingly beautiful, while Landua’s brittle vocal paints life’s end in colors you can’t escape. Not an easy listen, yet oddly, an utterly enthralling one. Certainly not a song one expects from a band hellbent on emptying some beer tubs in the neon honky tonk Saturday nights. See for yourself:
I got a phone call from my daughter
My grandson’s an outlaw he broke something I bought her
And my brother always tells me to take my medicine daily
Oh and sometimes you know.. I do
But does it even really matter
Cause it’s been a long time since I
Have had a long Friday night.. alive
Clearly not your average college band.
Not all doom and gloom, though. “Stand,” for example, is a perfect example of how to simply yet effectively pen a substantive love song. As seems to be the norm throughout the track list, the music here is responsible for at least half the story. Rhythms rise and fall as if they were the highs and lows of lifelong love itself, and the guitar work follows suit. Pace, phrasing, and vocals are reminiscent of Sister Hazel (think “All For You”), but it works.
“Mailbox,” on the other hand, is the closest thing to an REO Speedwagon song anybody’s recorded in decades. As passionate power pop goes, that’s not exactly a terrible mold to work with. This thing drives, just flat puts it in gear and drives. Yeah, it’s another song about love going bad, but it plays like an anthem. Including the ringing guitar outro that’s every bit as angry and billowing and unbridled as one would expect from a Drive-By Truckers assault.
No way to put this one in a box, kids. Shake It Down is all over the map. There are enough influences to make it feel familiar, yet enough passion and energy and originality to make it all feel new. Definitely not Red Dirt. Definitely not country. Pop enough to appeal to fans of both, but substantive enough to not be just another Top 40 throwaway act. Interesting road the boys from Six Market Blvd are traveling. The record has garnered enough attention to gain a national re-release, so you’re likely to hear them soon enough. And the fact is, they make for a refreshing change from what has long passed for music on both the country and pop charts.
www.sixmarketblvd.com for more info.
~ 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.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.