This album is a peek into the space between the moments that have shaped us, both as people and a band. It’s a spring cleaning of emotional baggage, dusting off neglected cracks and corners only to find a comforting beauty in the accidental symmetry of what’s been left behind. A Picture of Your Family. Please enjoy!
I love a good cinematic songwriter. I want to be completely transported into the world that you’re creating with your music– include all the minutia of your daily life if that means that you can paint a picture so crystalline that I can’t help but see myself lost in it. I’ve talked ad nauseam about the way I think Jake Ewald has perfected the craft– but where would he be if it weren’t for acts like Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen? Those two men spared no detail and made sure to include whatever necessary to help the world they were creating come to life. That’s a quality that I’ve come to cherish as I’m getting older, and it’s one that I’m happy to report I’ve found in a band called Pony League.
The band recently announced their new record, A Picture Of Your Family, will be released on March 23rd through hometown-hero record label Break Kids Recordings and I couldn’t be more excited to share the title track with y’all! There’s something about this track that just draws you in– I don’t know if it’s the vulnerable nature of the vocals and piano or if it’s the drawl that helps make the story-telling feel authentic and serene. It’s one of those songs you can’t stop listening to because you love the fact that you feel something when you’re listening to it. You’re taken out of your own head, the negativity of real life slips away, and in a true Walking In Memphis kind of way– you can’t help but feel a little somber but somehow full of joy.
When asked about the song, vocalist Gus Fernandez said: “‘A Picture Of Your Family’ is an attempt to capture the fleeting emotions that come rushing during unexpected moments of quiet or “in-between moments”. You know when you’re at home at a time where you’re usually at work or school, and the light peeks through the window in ways you’ve never noticed? Or if you’ve ever booked a really early flight and found yourself in a cab before the sunrise looking out the window while the world still sleeps. This song is about the buried treasures that pop into your mind (or at least my mind) in that unexpected state of rest. In my case, it started with a glance at an old family photo that I walk by every day. On this particularly quiet day, the photo sent a rush of nostalgia through me and I found myself wondering how I’d gotten here.”
Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd make music enriched by their native South. Influenced by Pop Melody as well as Traditional Folklore. It’s old art for the new generation.
Anthemic acoustic guitar riffs mixed with contemplative finger-picked melodies. Lyrics spanning from reflective to whiskey-drunk. Dramatic vocal builds alongside gentle harmonies. Waves of folk crashing against shoals of rock and blues. Together, these traits define both the heart of Americana music as well as the soul of Great Peacock’s new album, Gran Pavo Real.
It may seem improbable how well these rising folk rockers feel the pulse of the Americana genre, yet trace their roots to an alcohol-fueled night of creativity among the band’s founding duo, singer/guitarist Andrew Nelson and fellow guitarist Blount Floyd. Somehow the country-rock loving Nelson and the 90’s country-music-influenced Floyd hit on the idea, almost joking, of creating a folk band…with an animal in its name…thus creating the blurry vision that is now Great Peacock. Perhaps the band’s unorthodox heritage is what allows Gran Pavo Real to stand out as its own sound in a musical landscape inundated with “authentic,” cookie cutter, offerings.
With Gran Pavo Real, the band has taken a remarkable step in the complexity of their lyrical songwriting. On “One Way Ticket,” Nelson muses about a restless spirit taking flight: “I’m a Rolling Stone/Yeah I can’t sit still/I’m a one-way ticket/heading straight downhill/ I’m a backroad Baptist with stories to tell/Got a one-way ticket to keep me out of hell.” On the album, whether pining, reflecting, or simply going on a bender, the lyrics have a poetic flow that allows them to impact with deeper meaning.
While the band’s dramatic, anticipation-charging musical builds and drops are still present on many of the songs, there are plenty of works that feature a tender intimacy that pair well with the album’s more emotional pieces. Where “Take Me Down” has all the scratchy guitar, moody organ, and rolling beat needed for a jamming, festival-ready, hazy head-nodder, “Oh Deep Water” contrasts with bright guitar accents, preaching organ, and contemplative mallet-struck drums. Where “Heartbreak Comin’ Down” features a toe-tapping, gritty, southern rock, touch of rockabilly flair, “Begging To Stay” is a lyrically sin-laden, hymn-vocal power ballad that conjures delightful images of Meatloaf making an Americana album. For an interlude, there is the lighthearted, honky-tonking, booze-dripping “Let’s Get Drunk Tonight,” which feels like a tribute to Floyd’s country music past, the band’s Nashville home, and a reminder not to take itself so seriously. While touching on abundant inspirations, the album’s tracks are bound by the band’s wide love for music.
Great Peacock allows its influences to expand the band’s sound beyond the formalistic traps of a folk identity, while still embracing enough heartfelt classic charm that even purists will embrace. Gran Pavo Real serves as a showcase of the band’s diverse style and the broad Americana landscape.
As career trajectories are measured, Red Shahan has covered a hell of a lot of ground in the three years since the release of his debut, Men and Coyotes — not to mention since his salad days a decade ago, when he began haunting the Lubbock club circuit and made the fateful decision that music would be his life’s path rather than baseball, rodeo, or firefighting. After a few more formative years of honing his chops and confidence as a songwriter, singer, and versatile musician in different projects throughout the region, he relocated to Fort Worth and began focusing in earnest on launching a solo career and recording the album that would serve as his official introduction to the Texas music world at large. Men and Coyotes was originally released in the summer of 2015 with little fanfare, but the red-headed troubadour with the lonesome howl and penchant for somber portraits of busted boom towns and gritty, white-knuckled anthems wasn’t long in hitting his stride and building a loyal audience the old-fashioned way: organically, from the ground up.
That grassroots success would in turn land him both a booking deal with the Beverley Hills-based Paradigm Talent Agency and the honor of being the first artist signed to fellow Texas artist Randy Rogers’ Big Blind Management roster. The next thing Shahan knew, he was playing his first official showcase at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville. After the set, a duly impressed English gentleman with shoulder-length silver hair approached him to enthuse, “You guys were great!” Shahan thanked him, but didn’t learn until after the fact that he’d just met Robert Plant. “It was such a dark-lit room that I didn’t even recognize him,” Shahan confesses today with a self-effacing chuckle. “I guess I dropped the ball on that one!”
“If anybody ever had a ‘spirit animal,’ I would definitely say mine is a coyote,” he insists. “It’s just a very resilient animal — something that thrives off of the bottom rung of what people leave behind.” But as much as he admires the metaphoric potential of the scrappy underdog, as a storyteller Shahan is far too honest to ever cheapen his narratives with false hopes. In “Culberson County” when hesings, “let’s keep the lonely places / lonely as long as we can,” his wish is tempered with the realist’s fatalism that the wilderness and coyotes can’t hold out forever, because “it won’t be long before they pave it down and just the highways whine.” Likewise, even though he loves his native Lone Star State as much as any other former college rodeo performer who grew up on a cattle ranch, more often than not when Shahan sings about Texas, he’s not rhapsodizing about bluebonnets and carefree nights at the dancehall.
“I really like to try to paint a picture of the real Texas, because there’s a lot of stuff about Texas that people don’t talk about,” he says. Take, for example, the album’s harrowing “Enemy” — a documentary-style report from the frontlines of backwoods meth country. “I mean, I’m with the next guy that wants to throw on a pearl-snap shirt and hoot and holler over a case of Busch Light, but at the same time … how often are those people really happy? Because a lot of them come from some really hard and darker sides of Texas, and those are the things I want to bring light to.” Other tales from that dark side include “6 Feet,” about an incarcerated drug dealer dreading the cartel justice awaiting him on the other side, and “How They Lie,” whose opening verse unspools a world of heartbreak: “Sister’s in the backseat crying to her daddy, ‘When we gonna move back home?’ / He said it’s not our house now, Daddy made a few mistakes and now they’ve taken everything we own / Sign the wrong dotted line in a stack of papers and everything is gone.”
Just for the record, Shahan (who recently became a first-time daddy to a baby girl) has never been cheated by an oil company out of a family farm, let alone buried a bag of stolen drug money in the desert. But he infuses those stories with as much conviction as he does his more personal and “confessional” fare such as “Hurricane” and “Idle Hands,” two songs that address the emotional tug-of-war of a traveling musician weighing the temptations of the road against the comforts of home (and fidelity.) And although much of Culberson County may be as unapologetically, well, grim as Men and Coyotes, there’s a handful of songs here that reveal a lighter touch and even a flash of tongue-in-cheek humor. In the opening “Waterbill,” a broke musician’s lament served over a rollicking bed of Creedence-worthy riffage, Shahan finds himself stranded on the side of the road in Bandera, too drunk to call for help but just sober enough to dread spending the night in mountain lion country, because “I hear they love a redhead delight.” In the rollicking singalong “Someone Someday” (a rare co-write for Shahan, penned with Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere), he sings a line about “rubbernecking all the outlaws” that lands as both a laugh-out-loud commentary on the modern Texas/Americana music scene and a playfully self-aware admission of his own aspirations and insecurity. And then there’s the politically charged (albeit by Shahan’s admission, deliberately non-partisan) fist-in-the-air anthem “Revolution,” which really isn’t funny at all — but it does flat out rock.
Like any self-respecting Texas singer-songwriter worthy of the title, Shahan can hold his own playing any of his songs solo acoustic, just like he writes them. But Culberson County is no one-man show. Like Men and Coyotes before it, this is very much a full-band affair, with Elijah Ford (an acclaimed solo artist in his own right) returning to the producer’s chair, Matthew “Paw Paw” Smith (formerly with Ryan Bingham) back behind the drum kit and Shahan’s old Lubbock buddy Parker Morrow on bass. Shahan himself played rhythm electric and acoustic, while special recruit Daniel Sproul was called in to handle most of the lead guitar for the sessions. Guests on the album include fellow Texas songwriters Charlie Shafter and Bonnie Bishop on background and harmony vocals, as well as Shahan’s own mother, Kim Smith, who sings on the song “Memphis.” It was his mother who taught Shahan his first chords on guitar, telling him, “If you want to learn more, you can take this and go from there.” “I just wanted to have her on the album as a way of saying thank you for always supporting and believing in me,” he says. “She was a little hesitant at first, but she knocked it out of the park.”
The same can be said for everyone else on the record, too, which of course made it especially hard for Shahan to have to wait more than a year after its completion for its belated release date this spring — really the only concession (necessitated by the kind of big-picture scheduling and strategizing that comes into play anytime an artist breaks through to the next level) that he’s had to make to date in his career. He candidly admits that, left entirely to his own “blow-and-go” impulse, he might well have had three records out by now — and hopes that maybe he will come this time next year. But right now, he couldn’t be happier to finally get to share Culberson County with his fans — especially those who already know the handful of songs the band has previewed live well enough to request them by name.
“People will say ‘Are you going to play ‘Revolution’ tonight?’ And I’m like, ‘How do you even know that song’s called ‘Revolution’?” he marvels with a laugh. “But it’s been very cool to see that, and I’m just really excited to get the whole album out now and to get people’s reactions and input to the rest of the songs. We’re all extremely proud of this record. I still feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’re capable of yet, but … this is a great window into what’s to come.”