Album Review: Josh Abbott Band — Small Town Family Dream
Josh Abbott and the rest of his band find themselves at a crossroads similar to the one at which Jack Ingram, the Eli Young Band, Pat Green and Sunny Sweeney have found themselves. Having made it big in the Texas music scene, they each found themselves at a crossroads. A left turn runs to Nashville and a chance to reach a larger national audience. A right turn brings them right back to the Lone Star State. On Small Town Family Dreams, the Josh Abbott Band chooses their path by opening the album with a track called “Idalou.” It’s more than a song title, and it’s more than the name of Abbott’s hometown: it sets the stage for the theme of the entire album. The band doesn’t just ignore theNashville option, they kick it in the shin first.
Nearly the entire album riffs on the theme of the trials and romanticisms of growing up in a Texas town. “Idalou” acts as a welcome sign of sorts, detailing the loves, the people, and the passion of the town. And while some of the themes may intertwine (a bit) with some of the “rural, country road living is the best kind of living” songs blanketing the radio these days, the specificity of faces and places honor a locale rather than perpetuate popular stereotypes. The band gets a little more specific about their feelings about contemporary Nashville on the standout track, “I’ll Sing About Mine,” a song with a realistic view of the farm life Abbott knows well, including a little dig on Kenny Chesney in the chorus: “And when the radio’s on I just don’t understand / Because tractors ain’t sexy and workin’ is hard / For small town people like me / And the radio’s full of rich folks singin’ / ‘Bout places they’ve never seen.”
They’re right. By all accounts, small-town blue-collar farming is tough. It may be a honorable profession, but an incredibly difficult one to sustain in this day and age. The band seamlessly weaves in a couple of edgy covers of Terry Allen’s “FFA” and “Flatland Farmer” to help share the story. “My Texas” name-drops various state institutions you should visit including Luckenbach, Enchanted Rock and the Lubbock wind before backhanding Nashville again with “[If you] think polished, pop-country crap sounds the best, then you ain’t met my Texas yet.” The band finds peace of mind in “Dallas Love” and closes the album out with the thankful, Texas-themed title track: “I feel like I’m right where I need to be / I thank the Lord everyday, if I get the chance to pray / For all these blessings He’s given me / Like living with you in our small town family dream.”
Sonically and ironically, the band fits closer to the contemporary Nashville sound than much of the Red Dirt music scene. Abbott stretches his lead vocals more than he has on previous albums, and his from-the-diaphragm delivery gives them feeling. The instrumentation is sharp without being overly distinctive. It does beg the question, if some are critical of the Nashville music machine churning out “dirt road anthems,” why Abbott’s Texas-centric themes wouldn’t be thrown in that mix. What distinguishes the songs of Small Town Family Dream is the band’s specificity and honesty. Abbott shares the good, the bad and the ugly, and despite all of it, still finds passion and pride in his home town. It’s not so much Southern living, or even Texas living. It’s Idalou living.
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