Hard Times Are Relative – Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Jason Boland & the Stragglers are leading lights in the Red Dirt scene, a grassroots movement that mixes honky tonk, outlaw, and contemporary country, and is powered by constant touring. The Red Dirt sound has two homes, Texas and Oklahoma, and Boland and his band hail from the latter. They moved to the former to make their fortune. The “Red Dirt” categorization may seem a good fit for the media and fans, but the band has insisted from the outset that they’re a honky tonk outfit straight out of the country & western tradition.

Their 1999 debut album, Pearl Snaps, received solid regional airplay on college and public radio stations. Their music — drenched in pedal steel and fiddle combined with a rowdy live show — began drawing exceptionally large crowds, even when they were show openers. They quickly became a headline act in their own right.

Despite almost non-stop touring, they managed two more studio albums, Truck Stop Diaries and 2004’s Somewhere in the Middle. The second sold enough copies regionally to land them on the country charts.

The Stragglers then signed with songwriter Bruce Robison’s Sustain Records, which issued The Bourbon Legend in 2006, produced by Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam). This album placed even higher on the country charts.

The band’s live reputation spread beyond their original Red Dirt stomping grounds and reached the rest of the American West and even the East Coast. With 2008’s Comal County Blue, their debut with Thirty Tigers, they broke through on a national level and landed at number 30 on the country charts. Subsequently, it was their first recording to place on the indie charts. Just before the set’s release, Boland ruptured a vocal cord during a show. He required surgery, therapy, and substantial recovery time to be able to sing again.

When he recovered, the band recorded High in the Rockies at four consecutive live shows in Colorado in January of 2010 and released it in April. Their 2011 studio follow-up, Rancho Alto, was co-produced by the band and Shooter Jennings. It charted higher than any previous outing.

Boland & the Stragglers had become regulars on festival stages not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. When they released 2011’s Dark & Dirty Mile (also co-produced with Jennings), they were selling loads of records internationally. The album was also notable because it included two songs by two of Red Dirt’s prime inspirations: Oklahoma’s Bob Childers (“Blue Diamonds”) and Texas’ Randy Crouch (“They Took It Away”). It was the band’s highest charting album to date on several charts.

By the time the band announced the release of Squelch in August of 2015, they had sold over a million records globally — a staggering achievement for a group whose independent way of doing business strayed far from standard music industry techniques. Co-produced with Jim Ward, Squelch was Jason Boland & Stragglers tenth recording; it was issued in October. ~ Jim Allen