An Introduction to the Great Casey Donahew Band

If it wasn’t already exciting enough for Pat Green to be coming to town other than for Texas Independence Day, imagine how delighted I was to discover that Casey Donahew Band would be opening. Pat Green is one of the finest Texas country artists out there today and it would be hard to say enough great things about him and his music, but I’m almost as excited to see Casey Donahew Band. PFG has been an easy sell to some of my less country-musically inclined friends and readers who may not be as familiar with CDB so I thought I’d share a bit about why I’m so excited to see them (for more specific thoughts on their most recent album see here).

Casey Donahew Band’s corpus of records is relatively small – and their first album was only released in 2006 – but they have enough strong material on those 6 studio albums to play at least 3 awesome concerts without repeating a thing. For me the overriding themes of CDB are energy, authenticity, originality and humor. Right from the first track of their first album, Stockyards on Lost Days, CDB made it clear that they are Texas country through and through and here to rock. Stockyards, like a lot of their material, is Texas country-rock, with the twang of CD’s voice and plenty of fiddle plus lots of drums and electric guitar, with a foundation of original lyrics and performed with contagious energy and authentic emotion.

One of the things I find so enjoyable about CDB is their originality and sense of humor. Songs like White Trash Story, Double-Wide Dream, White Trash Story II and White Trash Bay blend portraits of original characters and Americana with funny juxtapositions that say yeah this is real life but we can laugh at it and ourselves too. Or CDB can turn a heartbreak song into something rollicking and fun like Go to Hell or just be funny for fun’s sake like Loser. The lyrical content of their songs is, in a very fun way, all over the map. It’s unexpected to hear an up tempo song about a woman shooting her husband with a shotgun but that’s what we get with Twelve Gauge.

Another highlight is the development of CDB’s ballad singing and composition skills across the arc of their albums. As compared to Lost Days which features significantly less variety, CDB opened up in their self-title album particularly in terms of tempo and tone, including a number of slower-paced and mid-tempo songs with a more obviously melancholy tone in addition to songs featuring unrestrained lyrical and instrumental energy. This same development continued on Moving On – the overriding theme of which was heartbreak love songs (my favorites being Broken and Breaks My Heart, though my sense is more people prefer Angel) – and through their later albums.

The energy that Casey Donahew Band brings to the table is more complex that just writing upbeat party anthems, though they get slightly closer to that in their latest album. This energy and their lyrical originality shines through in songs like Stockyards and One Star Flag about Texas, cowboy songs like No Doubt and That’s Why We Ride, love songs like Whiskey Baby and Lovin’ Out of Control and hard times songs like Homecoming Queen and Moving On. In particular I love Casey Donahew’s heartbreak love songs like Sorry, Next Time, Running Through My Head, Where the Rain Can’t Find Me, Runaway Train and California. There are no doubt great songs still to be written about breaking up and crying on a barstool, but one of CDB’s particular skills is mixing up the anger, hurt, despair, revenge, etc. with a little humor and considerable insight and empathy into up tempo songs the listener can have fun with while still considering, and actually I think more fully experiencing, the underlying emotions.

Hope to see everyone at Irving Plaza in New York City on September 9 for this show – should be a great one!

Songs for the Trump Era: Shuttin’ Detroit Down

Off John Rich’s Son of a Preacher Man album and co-written by Rich and John Anderson (a great songwriter), Shuttin’ Detroit Down is a song I can’t help but think would make a marvelous addition to Pres. Trump’s campaign trail playlist. It’s a pop-country song of stark populist contrasts that self-consciously screams heartland, and though a pre-Trump bailout-era 2009 song, it feels pretty darn relevant today.

The song focuses on the contrast between the hard-working and self-reliant real world folks against the D.C. bailout boss man jet-setting crowd. The people getting their hands dirty building real things and working hard to improve their lot versus the entitled city-dwellers who sell “make-believe” and game the political system to their advantage on the backs of working folks. SDD elides over the fact that it was the auto-industry too, and not just big banks, that received bailouts and perhaps, as one of the reviews of the song I read suggests, ventures a bit too far into class warfare in seeming not to draw a distinction between success as a result of hard work versus profiting at others’ expense. But the general contrast, in any event, is a powerful one, with the unfairness of farmers auctioning ground and hard-working auto-workers left with nothing while others pull the strings of big government for personal profit.

The highlights of the song are the verses about the narrator’s dad, first instilling in the narrator a sense of fairness, work ethic and individual responsibility. Then as a contrast to these ideas, the people “losing billions” and coming to folks like his dad to get rescued and “Well, pardon me if I don’t shed a tear / they’re selling make believe and we don’t buy that here”. And finally the unfairness in his father, towards the end of his career, with callouses on his hands not having nearly enough to show for his years of labor. These lines make the themes of the song personal and focus the listener’s attention on the song’s protest: that there really is something wrong going on here and it’s affecting real people’s lives.

The instrumentals of the song hit SDD’s themes home perfectly, and combine with the only average lyrics to make this a good song. To begin with, the background piano, drums and a bit of electric guitar set the mood and jump in at the right places to make the song not one of despair, but rather as a “fightin’ mad” protest song. The acoustic guitar, particularly prominent at the start of the song, and the crying fiddle and steel guitar – instruments that sound like the heartland feels – add to the song’s purpose: the protest that things are backwards and “what the hell is going on around here!”

Overall the song is a success. Despite lyrics that are hit or miss and could have done a bit better at zoning in on the problem, the song still manages strikes a real chord, especially through the great melody and instrumentals, in focusing attention on the plight of hard-working folks with good values with a strong measure of deserved indignation.