Hard-swingin’ honky-tonk is a descriptor many country artists might shy away from in the current music landscape, but with its sophomore release, “Driven Man,” Cowboy Dave Wilson and his group of Rocky Mountain all-stars embrace the term with an exclamation mark.
The six-song EP (available here), which was released on Slackjaw Records earlier this year, is a raw display of pure swinging grit that begins to bridge the gap between Wilson’s more traditional debut release, “Saddle Up, Pal,” and the debauchery that he previously cranked out as the frontman for cowpunk group FortyTwenty. The new record spent 28 weeks on the Americana Music Chart, and has received extensive play on Sirius XM’s “Outlaw Country,” among other stations across the country.
A true walking-bass honky-tonker, “Dive of Dives,” kicks off the new recording with a line that sets the tone for the whole album: “Stale cigarettes and day old beer // Lord, tell me what I’m doing here.”
“We were actually finishing up the arrangement for this one as we were setting up in the studio,” Wilson said, “but I really think it gave the album that pure honky-tonk country song that it needed. It’s really about pondering why we have this unshakeable attraction to playing music all over the place.”
The first verse speaks to heading south to play music in Texas, a state that has become a regular tour stop for the Colorado group, including multiple recent shows at the famed Continental Club in Austin, where the group has had the opportunity to fill in for the legendary Dale Watson on his regular night.
In an effort to produce a “live and non-manufactured” feel, Wilson brought the touring band to Silo Sound Studios in Denver, recording the bulk of the album in one day with Emmy-nominated producer Greg Kincheloe and engineer Todd Divel.
Musicians on the album include Denver veterans Glenn Taylor (pedal steel), Scott Johnson (upright bass and vocals), Adam Stern (electric and acoustic guitars) and Andy Walters (drums), as well as additional Nebraskans Sam Packard (fiddle) and Tony Robertson (electric guitar).
“Ragged but Right” is a tip of the hat to the late George Jones, who recorded the traditional song in 1957. The group’s arrangement gives the classic tune somewhat of a western swing feel, featuring sweeping fiddle and pedal steel solos.
The album’s title track, “Driven Man,” is held together by a classic truck-driving beat, and discusses a person’s need to keep on moving on. Penned by Wilson in 2011, the song has become a staple at the group’s live shows. “Honky-Tonk Me” was originally recorded by Wilson on FortyTwenty’s “Lowdown and Dirty” album in 2003. Eleven years later, Wilson’s solo group has helped evolve the song into a more upbeat, harder-swingin’ honky-tonk piece, breathing new life into this old favorite.
Drawing on the true life story of his mother-in-law’s desire for Wilson to move the family to Western Nebraska, “Maggie’s Mom” features heavy fiddle over a train beat, as Wilson somewhat ironically confirms that he’s “not cut out to be a railroad man.” The album’s final track, “What A Shame,” was written by Johnson and boasts a driving rock-a-billy feel, led by Johnson on the slapping upright bass.
The group will support the six-song EP with extensive touring in 2014, primarily throughout the Midwest and South.