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Music Review - `Western` by James Hyland (jh)

James Hyland -  Western  (click on image to watch video)

29 February 2020 

 

James Hyland has been making music in Austin since the turn of the millennium. Folks may know him best as the frontman for the South Austin Jug Band, but he’s delivered rock n’ roll with the James Hyland Band and a psychedelic outing with the aptly named James Hyland & the Joint Chiefs. Western is an epic themed solo album of 19 tracks, running a full 80 minutes. It’s about the impact of the building of the transcontinental railroad on the American West, told from the point of view of several perspectives, be they Texas Rangers, Indians, women, cattleman, or infamous train robbers. Hyland’s long been the cynical type, so if you’re reading some socio-political commentary into his tales, you’re listening properly. These are felt in the opening “The Edge of Comancheria,” “Texas Ranger,” “Today’s a Good Day to Die” and “White Men in the Black Hills.”

With his well-established reputation, it’s not surprising to see Hyland recruiting some of Austin’s best for support including Johnny Moeller (Fabulous Thunderbirds) on guitars, Kim Deschamps (pedal steel/ dobro), Warren Hood (fiddle/mandolin), Kevin Smith (upright and electric bass), Robb Kidd (drums and percussion). The eight guests include Betty Soo in a fun western swing duet with Hyland called “Swing It Your Way” and Chip Dolan (keys) among others. These top-notch musicians shine throughout but take special attention to Deschamps’ pedal steel in “Dark and Weary World” and Hood’s fiddle in “Hill Country Nights” and “Ghost.” Hyland shows his country roots continually but perhaps most vividly, sounding like an early Steve Earle in “Nashville Song.”

There are some great story songs, perhaps none better than the upbeat “The Ballad of Eddie Mullet,” a rather humorous take on the stereotypical outlaw immortalized in western movies and television shows. The fun duet with Betty Soo precedes the heavy rock guitar chords that lead into “White Men in the Black Hills” (‘searching for gold”) as Moeller takes a scorching lead.  One of the best songs is “Dark and Weary World,” not only for the pedal steel spot but the wonder of the unknown they’ll be facing as Hyland tries to stay under control, uttering “I’ve got the lights in the dashboard to calm me down.”

Most of the story songs appear in the first half of the album which lightens in mood as it unfolds. Hyland seems especially proud of these tales. Here are some excerpts of his thoughts – “We’ll sit alongside the engineer who bravely drove the first westbound train across the country (“First Westbound Train”)and we’ll see the world through the eyes of an ex-civil war officer and veteran who happily turned brothel piano player.”(“Top Floor”)  And, another – “We’ll ride through the dangerous chaos with famous Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight, who immortalized by Larry McMurtry in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove.” (“Ramblin’ Man”) He makes a soothing exit with “Full Moon.” Hyland has so much to sing about but by his own admission, there are too many characters in the West to cover. His driving theme is a will to survive with love as the underlying driver.

 

It's so much to absorb in one listen. Stay patient. You’ll be rewarded.

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

 


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