by Julian Spivey
Red Dirt country act Jason Boland and the Stragglers made their way to Little Rock’s Revolution Room on Saturday, March 25, a venue that’s basically become an annual stop on their touring schedule.
One of the most entertaining and best groups in the country music Red Dirt subgenre that features many acts from Texas and Oklahoma, where Boland and the Stragglers hail from, put on a terrific almost two hour set for the excited and energetic Rev Room crowd. The set featured fan-favorites, tracks from the group’s most recent album, 2015’s excellent Squelch and even a new song Boland said would be featured on their next album, which the band was going to enter the studio to begin recording the next day.
Boland and the Stragglers kicked off the fantastic night of true country music with “Break 19,” off Squelch, before embarking on numerous crowd favorites from the group’s nearly 20 years on the road like “Bourbon Legend,” “Comal County Blue” and “The Dark and Dirty Mile.”
Boland has a very energetic performance style bouncing around on stage, especially during solos from the incredibly talented Stragglers, especially fiddle player Nick Worley and lead guitarist/slide guitarist Cody Angel. Boland also doesn’t mess around too much between performances, going from song to song in rapid succession, never letting the crowd have time to escape from the moment of raucous honky-tonk music.
Boland is one of the best songwriters in the Red Dirt country subgenre, but always finds time to pepper his performances with songwriting idols of his like when he covers Danny Flowers’ “Tulsa Time,” popularized by Don Williams, and Tom Russell’s “Gallo del Cielo.”
Other originals the band performed on Saturday night at the Rev Room that pumped up the crowd were “Electric Bill,” “Pushin’ Luck” and “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole,” which really show that Red Dirt country can be at its best when influenced by a little rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Asshole,’ one of my favorites off Squelch, is really a punk-country song and you could tell Boland was greatly influenced by punk music, as well as his country idols, when he performed a new song “Dee Dee OD’d,” about The Ramones.
Despite the country-rockers there was plenty of room for hardcore, honky-tonk songs in Boland’s set like “False Accuser’s Lament,” a highlight off his 2011 release Rancho Alto, and slower country ballads like the beautiful “Somewhere Down in Texas,” from the group’s 1999 debut Pearl Snaps, and “Lucky I Guess,” written for and dedicated to his wife Mandy.
One of my favorite performances of the night, and one I hadn’t heard the two previous times I’ve seen Boland and the Stragglers, was “Fences,” from Rancho Alto. The song is about how immigrants came to the United States and essentially stole it from Native Americans, which is why it was unusual to see some couples slow dancing along to it.
I was happy to see numerous selections from Squelch performed throughout the night like “Heartland Bypass” and the bawdy “Fuck, Fight and Rodeo,” but would’ve loved to have heard “The First to Know” and “Lose Early” from the album, as well.
Anytime you see a Stragglers show you know you’re going to get Boland classics like “Pearl Snaps,” “When I’m Stoned,” “Drinkin’ Song” and “Blowing Through the Hills,” which fans seem to really enjoy every single time.
Boland and the Stragglers ended their set with the fitting “The Party’s Not Over,” and that proved to be true as the group stayed for a three-song encore that included “Hank,” about how today’s music just isn’t what country music is supposed to be, “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Outlaw Band.”
“Outlaw Band,” written by another of Boland’s idols and fellow Oklahoman Bob Childers, has become the group’s signature song, in my opinion, and is their frequent closer. If you haven’t heard Boland and the Stragglers perform this rip-roaring number than you simply haven’t heard one of the greatest country performances there’s ever been. The fiddle and mandolin, both played by Worley, alone on this song is enough to knock you right off your feet. This show closer is well worth the attendance of the entire night on its own.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Boland and the Stragglers is one of the most energetic and exciting acts in any subgenre of country music. They prove it every single time they take the stage.