With the recent Blake Shelton comments about only “old farts” listening to classic country music, it’s only fitting that I recently finished a week-long auditory exposition of an album that is considered “Americana” and far from the sounds of modern country music, ala Blake Shelton. While Old Excuses is distinctly Americana, blending the styles of many genres including country and rock, I can’t help but feel that this music is the true evolution of old country, and not the modern pop country we have today. This music has soul. The music, the lyrics, and the melodies have been crafted by a young group of musicians living in a small town called Oakdale, CA., which is claimed as “The Cowboy Capital of the World”. It doesn’t get much more country than that, does it?
I grew up in Oakdale with some of the band members of The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit and lived in that rural area for many years before becoming an East Coaster. Oakdale is surrounded by cattle pastures and the Stanislaus River, and rests just at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s. It’s a town where we used to play paintball in the woods, in someone’s backyard, or in a cattle pasture with its barns and wooden fences as cover. A lazy train still cuts through town, stopping traffic on the main street. Head east up to Sonora, and you’re driving on a lonely highway surrounded by rolling golden hills with the snow-capped Sierra’s in front of you. Stop by at Knights Ferry and the old wooden bridge, and visit the old vestiges of the mill and remains of the 19th century jail. Go west, and you’ll drive into Modesto and the thick of the Central Valley’s agriculture belt where the majority of the world’s almonds are grown. Cows and almond trees and vineyards are a stones throw from your car window as you drive from town to town.
When listening to Old Excuses, all that is good about Oakdale and the Central Valley is conjured up in my mind. The boys of TGLTSO have been crafting their work for years, playing at the Cow Track, a local bar, or practicing up at the “Tioga” house which once sat between a railroad track and a vineyard (which has since been removed and replaced with cookie cutter houses) and has hosted numerous recording and practice sessions from various local bands. The members have an eclectic musical background, lending to the many sounds and instruments you’ll hear on Old Excuses. The album truly is a mix of genre’s, with only a handful of its 15 tracks remaining thematic to each other. On top of the wide mix of sounds, you have alternating vocalists and song writers in Chris Doud and Will “Willy Tea” Taylor, both of whom bring their own distinct styles and sounds. You’ll find yourself hard pressed to decide whose songs you like better, and in the end, you’ll simply decide they’re both great.
Chris Doud brings a distinctly “classic” country sound to Old Excuses, in both song style and vocals. What may be my favorite track on the album is “Lost Claim“, the 3rd track and 2nd song you’ll hear with Doud at the helm. On the opposite spectrum, Doud rocks it with “Highway Religion“, and a guitar solo by Matt Cordano and Chandler Pratt that will rip the skin right off of your face. That particular solo may seem odd to have on this type of album, but it’s pulled off spectacularly and is the high point of the song. Willy Tea, on the other hand, draws on some folksy homegrown vocals to deliver his songs. His lyrics and music typically portray a simpler time, evoking images of the very land we all grew up around in Oakdale. “Young when I left home” is one of his best on the album, where you can imagine yourself part of this different world Willy is weaving with his lyrics, and even long to experience. “Heart on a shelf” draws you right in with the opening lyrics, and is one of the more melancholy songs on the album, reflecting on the pain of love and beautifully written. The last song, “Everywhere Now“, has a hopeful air of life after death with lyrics that will stir your heart, “we kiss goodnight baby/i’m the brave in your fight baby/the Good Lord is runnin with me/there ain’t no need to miss me/i’m everywhere now”
I listened to their last album extensively when it was released, “The Ghost of Good Manners” (btw, they come up with some damn good album names!). To me, Old Excuses is a big step forward for TGLTSO. While ‘Ghost’ was good, it was just…good. When you compare the two, there is a level of growth, maturity, and seriousness found on Old Excuses that was still being developed on the last album. The song writing is far more complex, and it’s just so damn good you can’t help but get excited about where they’re headed from here. In previous albums, it felt like they weren’t quite taking themselves as seriously as they should be. “Ghost” was a lot of fun to listen to, but it just didn’t have the lasting ability that Old Excuses has. They continue some of their signature-style songs, such as “Chuck“, which is an ode to Charleton Heston with some very clever lyrics. On “Ghost”, the target of their adoration was Wilford Brimley and his ‘stache.
Old Excuses is The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit’s signature album, and I know they will be rewarded with such a stellar showing. This isn’t anything like the modern pop country that has propelled people like Blake Shelton into the mainstream, this is real, heartfelt Americana. This is the music you hear when you actually go into the country, as opposed to producing something out of a multi-million dollar Nashville outfit that anyone with a ‘country’ twang can sing. Do yourself a favor and pick yourself up a copy over at Heckabad Music: Old Excuses